TIFF Journal: ‘The Riot Club’

'The Riot Club'

Movie Rating:


When one thinks of Oxford University, the images that come to mind are typically of erudite young English folk sipping tea and discussing complex schools of thought in well-pressed suits. However, there’s that class warfare thing that dominates English culture as well, so it’s safe to assume the place is also swarming with over-privileged snots who will one day rule the country through that very refined snotiness. That less flattering portrait is the subject of ‘The Riot Club’. Boy, is it ever.

‘The Riot Club’ is one of those movies that has a point to make and intends to make if as loudly as possible. The titular club is one of the most elite in the particularly elite university, comprised of only ten students at a time. Upon graduation, they’ll be locked into an old boys’ club that will help them rule the country. During university, they’ll get together for nights of particularly intense debauchery in tuxedos. The film follows the induction of two new members, peaking with one of the club’s infamous dinners, which concludes with a vicious act of violence that must be hushed-up. This isn’t a horrible idea for a movie, just one that speaks its message in such thunderously loud and obvious tones that it can get a little nauseating.

The film started as the play ‘Posh’ and was adapted for the screen by the original playwright, Laura Wade. The stage origins are pretty obvious in the limited settings and incredibly direct writing loaded with thudding metaphors. Those techniques work well on the stage where the writer is king, but on film they feel shrill, and sure do in ‘The Riot Club’. The movie has scenes in which the characters might as well just look at the camera and say, “This next speech sums up the thesis of this film. Do listen up, chaps.”

The problems are lessened slightly by the sure hand of director Lone Scherfig (‘An Education’), who came out of the Dogme school and knows how to pull the most naturalistic possible performances from her actors. There are passages when she turns Wade’s script into something resembling reality, and the movie starts to feel like a poignant portrait of England’s viciously incestuous elite. Unfortunately, whenever she starts to ground the film, another speech is spat out of a character’s mouth that takes us back to didactic thematic force-feeding.

‘The Riot Club’ is a film with its heart in the right place and moments of extraordinary power, but it just never comes together. It’s ultimately an awkward, messy and stagy story that probably shouldn’t have been taken out of theater.

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