Film Review: Clubbed (2009)

Review of “Clubbed” (2009), director: Neil Thompson, first published in “Sight and Sound” magazine Volume 19, Issue 2, February 2009. 

Synopsis

The present day: Danny waits outside the gates of a prison. The 1980s: Danny
is working in a factory and estranged from his wife Angela. Taking his
daughters to a working men’s club he is beaten up by thugs working for local
gang lord Hennessy. Danny becomes depressed and attempts suicide. He joins a
local boxing club where he meets Louis, Rob and Sparky, a team of bouncers
from a local nightclub. After some training Danny joins them as a bouncer at
the club.

While Sparky is working for Hennessy, letting his dealers into the club and
doing deals for him, Rob cracks down on dealers. Danny is confronted again
by Hennessy’s thugs but fights back and injures them. Hennessy attempts to
intimidate Rob. Sparky’s dealings are exposed and he is fired from the
nightclub. Rob vandalizes Hennessy’s car; in retaliation Hennessy has him
killed.

Hearing of this Sparky commits suicide. Louis and Danny ambush Hennessy and
his thugs and kill them. Danny goes back to Angela who destroys the
evidence. Louis is arrested and goes to prison, he refuses to indict Danny.
Twelve years later, having turned is back on violence, Danny meets Louis as
he is released from prison.

Review

The moral one is left with at the end of “Clubbed” is a very simple one.
Beating someone to death with a baseball bat is a morally acceptable action,
if the person you beat to death is a bad person. After being beaten up in an
unprovoked attack Mel Raido’s put-upon factory worker Danny joins a team of
bouncers at a midlands nightclub where he is drawn into a battle of wills
between Colin Salmon’s Zen-like head bouncer and Ronnie Fox’s ludicrously
evil gang boss. Though a tacked-on postscript suggests he comes to renounce
violence, his character arc relies on the notion that engaging in acts of
violence and intimidation is a fruitful path to self-realization.

If “Clubbed” dealt with its violent themes with a little more intelligence
or didn’t make unconvincing attempts at realism it would be a less
depressing experience. Based on the real-life experiences of Coventry
doorman Geoff Thompson, it trades in the kind of romanticized thuggery that
defines the British “true-crime” genre. It seems early on that the film may
try and explore the psychological effects of violence, but after a few
boxing lessons and a cursory reading of Sun Tzu Danny’s traumas, for the
most part, seem to have been totally forgotten. Despite its half-hearted
attempts at introspection, “Clubbed”, for the most part, has the moral
complexity and social commentary of as an episode of “Danny Dyer’s Deadliest
Men”

In fact, if it wasn’t for two graphically violent scenes “Clubbed” wouldn’t
be out of place on British TV. For the most part the cast perform with the
perfunctory conviction that characterises the kind of TV drama their faces
are familiar from, though Salmon seems miscast as the leader of the doormen,
his calmness coming across uninterested rather than threatening. While
Thompson seems fatally unsure whether to filch the style of “This is
England” or “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” it ends up in a similar
place to the hit BBC TV series “Ashes to Ashes”. Like the series, “Clubbed”
is set in an approximation of the 1980s, a virtual decade remembered only in
cultural detritus. The superficial details, from cars to crisp packets, seem
to have been laboured over but there is no attempt to contextualise the
story. The ska and mod revival threads sported by the hardman principals
seem chosen for their cool value. Historical accuracy is not a concern;
half-inched iconography is only used to add colour to the drab story.
Tellingly, the location and year are never specified. Bizarrely the “twelve
years later” bookends seem to be set in the present day – the clothes and
cars are clearly late 2000s – which would mean the film’s events occurred in
the Britpop summer of 1996.

Despite its clubland setting, the film has little to say about the tribal
rites of (the British) Saturday night. With DJs playing upbeat soul and
dealers pushing uppers on the dance floor, the film is set sometime before
the late eighties acid house revolution; before ecstasy and electronic beats
replaced speed and soul. It is a telling decision. “Clubbed” like “Ashes to
Ashes” is a conservative caricature of our recent pop-cultural history. It
is a history of self made men which ignores the utopian and Dionysian urges
of youth; a culture defined by sharp suits and buttoned up brutality. Danny’s
final act decision to put his energies into writing rather than fighting
only comes once he has dispatched his foe with a baseball bat. “Clubbed” –
despite its pretensions – pushes a vapid worldview where violence really is
the answer.

Paul Scott 2008

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