The Cutlers are an outlaw clan feared by others in their Gloucestershire traveller community. Patriarch Colby (Brendan Gleeson) carets nothing for authority and masterminds stately home raids. But his son Chad (Michael Fassbender) craves a better life for his own children, and plans to break free.
Of the few things Assassin’s Creed got right, the casting of Brendan Gleeson as Michael Fassbender’s father stood out in the muddled video game adaptation as one that made perfect sense. So it’s a treat to get a film so soon after which allows these two magnetic Irish actors to fully explore a father/son relationship across its entire running time, rather than during a brief respite from some magic-apple-chasing parkour.
The setting couldn’t be more different. In Trespass Against Us we find Fassbender and Gleeson in a ramshackle caravan compound, where a model of a policeman is used for target practice by catapult-wielding scamps, and Gleeson’s heavy-set, small-time crime lord Colby holds court at the campfire.
Gleeson is gifted with dialogue such as “Hell hath no fury like a locked-up super-goat.”
As his illiterate son Chad, Fassbender has the tougher role, playing a man who knows no other life than the school-shunning, smash-and-grab antics encouraged by his dad, but who is desperate to slip free to do right by his own kids. Still, he pulls it off — successfully portraying a man strong enough to start planning an escape, yet exasperatingly weak enough to still be there at his age. Gleeson, meanwhile, is a joy to behold, gifted with dialogue such as, “Nobody is about to tell me I came from the arse of an ape,” and one gloriously illogical rant at a police officer which concludes with the punchline, “Hell hath no fury like a locked-up super-goat.” Colby is monstrous, but depicted with a welcome light touch.
Both men, it should be noted, are loosely based on members of real-life crime family The Johnsons, aka “the Godfathers of Cheltenham”, with Colby and Chad no more presented as typical of the traveller community than Don and Michael Corleone were of Italian-Americans. And though director Adam Smith (here making his feature debut, after the superbly immersive Chemical Brothers concert movie Don’t Think) had once planned to make a documentary about the Johnsons, he and cinematographer Eduard Grau (A Single Man, Suffragette) allow for some gently lyrical flourishes that lift the film above the expected grimy docu-drama feel. There are a pair of inventive car-chases, too, one with Chad at the wheel of motor whose windscreen is covered in paint, but for a letterbox-sized view hole.
There are missteps, though. The script (by Alastair Siddons) is let down by its weaker female roles — Chad’s daughter Mini (Kacie Anderson) is sidelined by the narrative neatness of his focus on his son, Tyson (Georgie Smith), while Lyndsey Marshal has little to do in her stand-by-your-man other-half role. And the treatment of a mentally challenged character played by Sean Harris leaves an unfortunately sour taste.
It’s also frustrating that the promised drama of the family rift never truly catches fire, instead building to a climax that never really comes. But through all this Smith remains true to his central pairing, putting that complex relationship before melodramatic fireworks. Thanks to Gleeson and Fassbender’s chemistry, he pulls it off.
A family/crime drama with shades of Shane Meadows’ early work and a satisfying double act in Fassbender and Gleeson.