English actor, producer, musician, and DJ Idris Elba turns to film directing in his first feature,Yardie. He drew on his upbringing in the Jamaican neighborhood of Hackney in London to paint the story of an angry young man from Kingston who arrives in London and immediately begins a bloody quest for vengeance and power.
The film begins in Kingston in the ‘70s when D (Dennis, played by Aml Ameen) is just a tween kid following his DJ brother Jerry Dread (Everaldo Creary) around. The ghetto where they live is caught up in a war between gangs: the Tappas and the Spicers. After seeing yet another child killed in a crossfire Jerry Dread decides he must act to end the bloodshed. Jerry has the baddest sound system in town. A true believer that Reggae music will bring peace and heal the world. Which, it turns out, is wrong.
Jerry brokers a deal between the two warring Dons, King Fox (Sheldon Shepherd) and Skeets (Rayon McLean), to come together and shake hands at his peace concert. During the handshake one of Skeet’s boys, Clancy, guns down Jerry Dread. He dies under his own “No More War in the Ghetto” banner with D looking on.
“…King Fox realizes he’s a liability on the island, sending D to London’s Hackney borough . “
D carries that hurt and anger with him through the years. He goes to work for King Fox, who raises him like a son, grooming him for gangster life. During a drug negotiation D starts a fight with a security man he recognizes as an old Skeets gang member. He sours the deal and King Fox realizes he’s unstable, and a liability on the island. King Fox sends D off to London’s Hackney borough to deliver coke to a Jamaican drug lord there named Rico (Stephen Graham).
Upon arrival, D feels disrespected by Rico and his crew. Slipping out a bathroom window and running the rooftops of Hackney he escapes. Keeping the coke, he makes connections to set himself up as the next drug Don of Jamaican Hackney.
His ex-girlfriend, Yvonne (Shantol Jackson) takes him in and he meets his daughter who he’s not seen since she was a baby. He hooks up with a sound system crew called High Noon. When it seems he’s settling into a manageable groove he learns that the man who shot his brother 10 years ago is also in London and he abandons everything for revenge.
“…a ripping classic gangster tale done right, but that’s only part of the appeal…”
As director, Idris Elba proves as talented as he is at everything else he’s done. He confidently brings his vision for Yardie to the screen with first-rate performances from his actors. Aml Ameen as D carries the weight of the film with grace and powerful screen presence.
Elba played Mumbles in the Guy Ritchie film RockNRolla, and brings some Ritchie style to his own film, borrowing pacing, camera technique, and even an actor, Stephen Graham. Fans of Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels will be right at home.
One minor grumble: having the film subtitled may be underestimating the audience. The Jamaican accent is quite thick and it takes an attentive ear to settle into the rhythm, but it does come. There are also Jamaican phrases that outsiders won’t be familiar with. Still, Guy Ritchie films had cockney rhyming slang and no subtitles.
Yardie is a ripping classic gangster tale done right, but that’s only part of the appeal. It goes beyond the narrative into full cultural immersion with music as the window into a time and place. Elba infuses his deep love of Reggae into this film, weaving a lush tapestry of rhythm as it evolves from the Jamaican sound of the ’70s into the multicultural Afro-Caribbean sound of ’80s Jamaican Hackney.
Grooving along, one finds oneself swept up in the cocoon of that enveloping heartbeat. Watching people dance on clouds of ganja to the High Noon sound system as D mans the mic, one realizes that one will never, ever be that cool.
Yardie (2019) Directed by Idris Elba. Written by Brock Norman Brock, Martin Stellman, Victor Headley. Starring Antwayne Eccleston, Fraser James, Aml Ameen.
8 out of 10