The most that any of us can hope for is just surviving. Isn’t it time we started living? Us and Them squarely takes on economic pressures that are building in the UK (and frankly, issues that are affecting nearly every other country on the map these days), as Danny (Jack Roth), a member of the lower class who recently lost his father to suicide, decides to take his frustrations out on a wealthy banker and his family to inspire others in his predicament to start fighting back against the elite. But when his plan goes south, that’s when all hell breaks loose, and we see just how much of a motivator money can be, especially when it comes to murder.
Us and Them begins with Phillipa (Sophie Colquhoun) taking her boyfriend, Glen (Paul Westwood), home to meet her affluent parents. On their travels to the family estate, the couple encounter a man lying in the road, and when they go to help him, he takes Greg prisoner and orders Phillipa to continue heading home and pretend that everything is just hunky-dory, and that her companion is her new beau and not an imposter. But as tensions mount during dinner with Phillipa’s parents, Conrad (Tim Bentinck) and Margaret (Carolyn Backhouse), “Greg” reveals his true identity as Danny, a regular bloke with a rather large chip on his shoulder, who blames men like Conrad (an elite investment banker) for the current state of his country, where the wealthy just keep getting wealthier, and the poorer keep getting poorer, with no hope of ever breaking free from their economic status.
Danny decides to take the family hostage as his way of making a political statement—that the time for action is now, and those who have harmed society with their greed should be held accountable—and he brings a few pals along to help him with his plan so that he can release a video of the whole affair online. But as the saying goes, “The best-laid schemes of mice and men go often awry,” which is precisely what happens with Danny’s hostage situation when his cohorts realize just how far he’s willing to take his radical idea, and everyone begins to manipulate and try to outthink the others to get the upper hand in a potentially deadly situation.
Writer/director Joe Martin does a bang-up job as a first-time feature filmmaker (he has previously worked in the world of documentaries), never quite glorifying one argument more than the other. Sure, there’s a lot that we can relate to in the truths that Danny spews throughout the film, but once he’s taken Conrad’s family captive, his own moral compass becomes a bit warped when he realizes his scheme isn’t working out the way he wants it to.
At one point, Danny tells Conrad that, “In class warfare, there are always victims on both sides,” and that couldn’t be truer about Us and Them, as we see how greed and corruption push the explosive situation into something Danny can no longer control. And for as much as we empathize with Danny, the issues he’s trying to shake up are far more complicated than just the rich versus the poor, so at times, Conrad’s retorts are just as valid as Danny’s accusations, effectively proving that yes, things need to change, but we also have to be willing to listen and learn to effectively achieve the change we are looking for. It’s something that’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of effort from folks from every walk of life, and it’s not going to come about just because he posts a video online (although these days, you never know).
Through the use of a non-linear narrative, Martin does a great job keeping surprises in store for viewers throughout Us and Them, despite the film's pretty straightforward premise. He uses catchy graphic cards and some snappy exposition to keep us invested with characters on both sides of the conflict, so when things begin to fall apart, the ramifications of the situation resonate with viewers. Martin's script is also brimming with a dark sense of humor, which never takes away from the story’s more serious-minded moments, and his pacing is pitch perfect, briskly moving the story along with not a frame wasted.
I know the comparisons are inevitable (particularly because this is a UK production starring Tim Roth’s son), but Martin’s project feels like a young Guy Ritchie working from an early Quentin Tarantino script, with every line of dialogue meaning something (which is no easy feat) and an incredible amount of character work at play, allowing even the supporting players moments to shine beyond Roth’s brazenly brilliant performance.
While Us and Them offers up no easy answers to the questions it asks, there’s a good reason for that: there aren’t any. Martin defiantly tackles timely issues with his debut, and with a star-making performance from Roth (who’s endlessly engaging to watch), Us and Them feels precisely like the type of movie we so desperately need right now.
Movie Score: 4/5
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