The awkwardly titled “I Against I” is a new British thriller from writer director James Marquand, son of Richard Marquand, best known for helming “Return of the Jedi” and “Jagged Edge” back in the 1980s. The film is a complex, noir-tinged affair, with a twisting, cat and mouse plot played out against a stylishly modern London background, its events taking place over the course of a single night and intertwined with flashbacks.
Without giving too much away, things kick off with a businessman called Drake (Kenny Doughty, “The Incident”) being snatched by the ruthless gangster Joseph (Mark Womack, “Route Irish”), who accuses him of having killed his father Tommy (veteran Brit television actor John Castle). Although Drake denies the murder, Joseph has CCTV footage of him in the building at the time of the crime, and with Tommy having owed him money, the pieces seem to fit. When Drake claims another man on the CCTV tape did the deed, Joseph agrees to give him until 6am the next morning to track him down and kill him. Unfortunately, the other man, Issac Revchenko (Icelandic actor Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, “Beowulf & Grendel”) has a plan of his own, being every bit as determined to hunt and kill Drake.
It’s definitely no small relief to find that “I Against I” is far removed from the usual laddish Guy Ritchie style stereotypical Brit gangster thriller and action films that have been littering the market with depressing frequency of late. The press release claims the film to have been influenced by Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1967 classic “Le Samurai” and modern Asian noir, though it’s the works of Michael Mann which spring most readily to mind, in particular “Collateral” and “Heat”. On this score, Marquand does a very good job of depicting nocturnal London as a cold, though stylish and tough landscape, which fits in well with the plot and overall feel. The story is a decent one, and though seasoned viewers will likely have spotted its main twists long in advance, it’s a well-constructed puzzle box with a rewarding conclusion. Marquand directs with a pleasing sense of tight economy, and clocking in at only an hour and a quarter, the film is lean and fast moving, and never outstays its welcome, enlivened by the occasional burst of action or violence.
On the downside, Marquand’s script isn’t quite as strong, and the film does suffer from poorly developed characters, with the two protagonists both never feeling like anything more than pawns on a chessboard. Neither are fleshed out or made sympathetic, and as a result the film has a detached feel which makes it less gripping than it might have been, undermining a couple of its tent pole revelations. Matters aren’t helped by some indifferent performances from the cast, and though Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson is suitably steely, Kenny Doughty makes Drake a bit too cocky to ever be engaging.
Still, this lack of emotional connection seems to have been a sacrifice that Marquand was willing to make, and despite feeling mechanical at times, “I Against I” is entertaining enough and works well as a high premise mystery thriller. It’s certainly great to see that British genre cinema has more to offer than cockney wide-boy gangsters, and Marquand shows enough talent to suggest that he will probably move on to bigger, better and more ambitious things.
Mark Cripps, David Ellison, James Marquand (director)
CAST: Kenny Doughty … Ian Drake
Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson … Issac Revchenko
Mark Womack … Joseph Carmichael
Sónia Balacó … Sophia Carmichael
John Castle … Tommy Carmichael
Robert Shannon … Hitman
Epeli Taione … Tonga
Paul McGrattan … Sam