A group of best friends meet for a coffee-shop gossip, only to become embroiled in a cross-continental caper of diamond-smuggling, internet sex and painful secrets. As the tagline has it, 4 Girls, 3 Days, 2 Cities, 1 Chance...
The heist happens off screen. The diamonds sparkle for seconds. 126.96.36.199. is as much about this crime, really, as Citizen Kane is about sledging. Yes, it’s an effective thriller, but slickly sliced and whip-paced as it is, the movie is powered by character, and that’s what makes it work. Co-directing from his own script and co-starring as the nefarious Tee, Noel Clarke provides the same pungent sense of place and people he gave the Kidulthood/Adulthood council-estate combo. His scope is broader, though, mixing nationalities, classes and motivations. Beyond that, this it is a great London movie. One story-strand may take place in the Big Apple, but everything comes home to the Big Smoke — chaotic, glorious, ugly and sweet as it is.
There’s a strong visual evolution from Clarke’s debut as director, which could be down to either his growing confidence or the contribution of co-director Mark Davis (whose droll short, Shakespeare, Tarantino & The Mitchell Brothers is on YouTube). There’s a more disciplined dynamism
here, a sense of greater consideration given to cuts. This is vital given the way the stories of the leads — Cassandra (Tamsin Egerton), Shannon (Ophelia Lovibond), Kerrys (Shanika Warren-Markland), Joanne (Emma Roberts) — unspool separately but interweave. Great friends but contrasting personalities, they each have a unique journey to take. The structure is episodic, and though it’s hard to pick out the strongest sequence — all the leads are convincing, all their stories involving — Warren-Markland’s panic-room/samurai sword/lesbian sex section sticks in the mind.
Beyond titillation, there’s emotion, too. And it’s to Clarke’s credit that while racial and sexual diversity are factors, they are not neon-highlighted: this is about as far from an issue movie as you can get. Simply, each character is looking for acceptance. It’s apt that a convenience store is a key location in a picture that’s about convenience culture – the nu-media’s 24/7 sensory assault, which gives us the means to connect but not necessarily the mindset. In this regard, Lovibond carries 188.8.131.52.’s most obviously heartfelt aspect, but there’s something true to find in all the characters.
The jigsaw structure may frustrate some and Michelle Ryan cameos as a character that’s mysterious to the point of being obtuse in a rather thudding set-up for a sequel. The presence of Kevin Smith also smacks of stunt-casting — except he’s actually rather funny. In a Brit-film landscape strewn with corsets and kitchen sinks, Clarke is a writer/director making credible, popcorn — whisper it — Hollywood entertainment. Whether he lands the gems on screen is for you to discover. But in real life, Clarke has definitely got the goods.
Brit hit: a sharp, funny, sexy thriller, with strong performances and soul beneath its shiny surface.