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The Pass Review

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On an away match in Bucharest, young footballers Jason (Russell Tovey) and Ade (Arinzé Kene) lark about in a hotel room until one of them kisses the other. The ramifications of the night play out over the next ten years as Jason becomes a superstar and Ade languishes.

★★★★★

The Pass couldn’t be more timely. At a time when English football is being dragged through the mire, this compelling adaptation of John Donnelly’s Royal Court smash is a telling indictment of a culture that fosters shame and silence, never forgetting to count the human cost of the macho ethos the sport is drowned in. What it lacks in cinematic width it gains in depth, thanks to a sharp screenplay and powerful performances, especially from Russell Tovey as a superstar player unable to reconcile his true self with his sporting success.

Russell Tovey gives a layered, career-best performance.

The film is a game of three halves set over ten years (hair and make-up does a good job of convincingly ageing the actors). The first kicks off with two young footballers, Jason (Tovey) and Ade (Arinzé Kene), cooped up in a hotel room before a Champions League match, engaging in bantz, play-fighting, watching amateur porn until the playful mood is shattered when they kiss. The action then moves on five years as Jason, now a successful first-team player and living in a penthouse, becomes the victim of a tabloid sting involving lap dancer Lyndsey (a sparky Lisa McGrillis). Then the final stretch spools further on as Jason and Ade meet during a tense reunion in a Manchester hotel room, an encounter enlivened by a young up-for-a-laugh waiter (Nico Mirallegro).

Despite some energetic camera work, The Pass is a static and stagey chamber piece — three long, talky scenes set in three different rooms. But the strong writing — touchstones include race, class, the loneliness of fame and the disparity between public personas and private lives — a mounting sense of intensity and the performances make it work. Kene is a gentle but engaging presence but this is Tovey’s movie, by turns brash, manipulative and tortured as a man being eaten alive by a secret he can’t shake.

Russell Tovey gives a layered, career-best performance in an intense interior drama that never quite shakes its theatrical origins.

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