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By Brad Wilke | August 25, 2009

Director Sam Holland has done a bang-up job with his debut feature “Zebra Crossings,” a story about four disenchanted UK youths and their hardscrabble lives amongst the blunt concrete apartment buildings in which they live. Holland borrows equally from Martin Scorsese and Guy Ritchie, though manages to maintain a unique voice in spite of the hectic camera work and flashy editorial flourishes.

The story centers on Justin (ably played by Lee Turnbull), a young man who is both tormentor and tormented, reminiscent of Malcolm McDowell’s Alex in “A Clockwork Orange.” Torn between the life that is laid out before him (and embraced by his best chums) and what lies beyond the brutal concrete of his immediate worldview, he must finally come to terms with what it means to truly grow up.

Without a stable home life, Justin relies on his sickly sister, Suzanne (Katheryn O’Reilly) to provide a moral reference point. His friends are no better, pulling him down with their predilections for drugs, violence, and more drugs. Justin must fight an uphill battle to maintain even a shred of hope in the face of such overwhelming odds.

This movie is not about plot as much as it is about character. The subtle nuances that Holland packs into each of the boys make them instantly relatable, even while they maintain their essentially sociopathic natures. This is no small feat, as so much of the emotional payoff hinges on the audience remaining sympathetic to their struggles.

The lush black and white cinematography (duties shared by Lucio Cremonese and Holland) adds to the somber mood of the film, while Holland’s use of the brutalist concrete architecture helps define and shape both his characters and their stories. This choice helps create a sense of immediacy for the audience; a feeling of shared struggle and heightened emotional connection that is not easily shaken.

Overall, an excellent, assured debut for Holland and a great example of regional cinema at its best.

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