The gang of WASTELAND (Oscilloscope Laboratories)

The gang of WASTELAND (Oscilloscope Laboratories)

Written & Directed by Rowan Athale
Produced by Ed Barratt, Mark Foligno, Gareth Pritchard
Released by Oscilloscope Laboratories
UK. 106 min. Not rated
With Luke Treadaway, Timothy Spall, Matthew Lewis, Iwan Rheon, Vanessa Kirby, Neil Maskell & Gerard Kearns

British director Rowan Athale’s feature debut opens in the gloomy confines of a police station, where battered and bleeding Harvey Miller (Luke Treadaway) is interrogated by world weary Detective Inspector West (Timothy Spall). Held on a charge of attempted murder, Harvey comes clean, and tells his version of events, his confession framed with flashbacks.

Six weeks earlier, Harvey emerges after a year behind bars for heroin dealing. He maintains he was framed and robbed of the bright future he had with girlfriend Nicola (Vanessa Kirby). Upon his release, Harvey persuades his band of loyal and hopeless friends to help him raise the cash he needs to accept a fellow con’s business proposition: to open a coffee shop in Amsterdam. He plans to rob Steven Roper (Neil Maskell), the “local businessman” and heroin dealer who set him up. While Harvey’s learned a little criminal savvy inside, his best friends Dempsey (Iwan Rheon), Charlie (Gerard Kearns), and Dodd (Matthew Lewis) aren’t even small-time crooks.

Wasteland is essentially a British heist movie set against the backdrop of a declining industrial city in contemporary Yorkshire, and it has deep affection for its cast of working-class underdogs and unlikely criminals. Their camaraderie forms the heart of the film, and their motives and the stakes ground them as empathetic good guys. The intimate scale, the specificity of place, and characters relationships set it apart from other films in the genre, which is hard to pull off. It challenges a director to innovate and keep developments one step ahead of the audience.

Athale’s approach is to deliver a confessional narrative in a competent plot with original, well-rounded relationships. There is some excellent cinematography within first feature budget constraints, and the score by Neil Athale, the director’s brother, is driving and tense. While the script is neatly plotted, it does not always hold up, implausibility creeps in and the actors are given too much expositional dialogue. The editing could have been tighter, instead of relying too much on montages at times and so losing tension.

Tonally similar to Ken Loach’s later and lighter work, such as The Angels’ Share, or Shane Meadows’ Once Upon a Time in the Midlands, Wasteland also draws on American references, and has been described by Athale as “Ocean’s Eleven on a council estate in Northern England.” The cinematography also references GoodFellas and Black Swan. While American audiences might take some time to tune into the accent, Athale has made a film for an overseas audience, carefully illuminating a regional subculture.