When Bernadette's (McRory) house is burned down, she hunts her good-for-nothing husband. When she finds him he's useless and, becoming a more and more desperate mother, she commits a smash and grab. This attracts the attention of cop Julia Armstrong (collette) who sympathises with Bernadette and tries to steer her away from the inevitable conclusion.
A contemporary British road movie that blends family drama with a dash of stylish semi-fantasy, The James Gang is a generally well-acted but curiously uneven mix.
McCrory leads as Bernadette, an increasingly desperate mother who finds herself burned out of her home and so sets off in search of her good-for-nothing husband, the karaoke singing Spendlove Sr. (Hannah). Having tracked him down, but still unable to raise any cash, Bernadette spontaneously commits a totally out of character smash-and-grab raid and the James family are off on what rapidly becomes a major family-oriented crime spree right across the country.
Tracking them down, and becoming increasingly sympathetic towards this mum on the run is Detective Julia Armstrong (Collette), herself a mother, and someone who is eager to avoid what seems like the inevitable tragic conclusion to the tale.
There's a lot of ambition in The James Gang - an impressive visual style, a fondness for quirky, often unexpected, comedy and a dash of media satire. But somehow, in the hands of writer Stuart Hepburn and director Barker, these elements often seem in conflict with each other, as if the film is constantly struggling to be more than the sum of its parts but is never really sure what that adds up to.
Hannah is fine cast against type, Flemyng is also effective as the brother-in-law who gradually starts to fall for Bernadette, but it is McCrory's excellent central performance that provides the film with its true heart. Also on the plus side is a sharp soundtrack from Bernard Butler, that not only delivers some unexpectedly effective and evocative guitar noodlings, but skilfully blends everyone from Ennio Morricone to Cowboy Junkies to McAlmont And Butler.
The James Gang is a generally well-acted but curiously uneven mix.