Shallow Grave (UK, 1994)

shallowgraveDirected by: Danny Boyle. After hearing the filmmakers in the Trainspotting commentary talk about their first film, Shallow Grave, I made a mental note to check it out. I remember them pointing out that the rough, yet suave London drug dealer at the end is a wink at a similar character from Shallow Grave (played by Keith Allen), leading me to imagine it as a kind of British gangland movie. What I got instead was something much closer to Blood Simple than Brighton Rock. This bears all of the markers and conveys a lot of the quirky energy of a first-time picture—but really, it just looks like an example of really great independent, low-budget filmmaking. This story is fairly recognizable as a noir descendent once all is said and done, but while you’re immersed, the filmmakers (the dynamite trio of Boyle/MacDonald/Hodge, lamentably absent these days as a team) give us something that feels truly unique. These three principals—Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston, Ewan MacGregor—generate a really genuine camaraderie, not only in their kinship, but in their eventual mutual evisceration. The film carries a sense of brevity and a pace that’s exciting without bordering on exhaustion like, for example, some of Scorsese does. These guys were obviously big fans of Goodfellas when it came out a few years earlier—that great shot of the blood-red brake lights tainting the grave digging is more than slightly reminiscent of Liota, De Niro and Pesci opening their trunk. For that matter, there are a lot of really remarkable visual elements in this film, from those shafts of light stabbing through the dusty attic to that semi-omniscient camera creeping along the floor looking at the ceiling. Cinematographer Brian Tufano isn’t a name I recognize, but I’ll be watching. And of course, to anyone as familiar with Trainspotting as I am, this film is an unmistakable prequel of sorts—if not in content, then in tone and style and, more importantly with Boyle/MacDonald/Hodge, energy. I didn’t realize that these guys had made a few more after Trainspotting before seemingly falling apart with The Beach (another one which wasn’t as bad as it’s cracked up to be), so I look forward to sampling those in the new year.

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