Yorkshire-set cat-and-mouse heist caper “Wasteland” draws knowingly from that great raft of lad Brit pics of recent decades, with roundelays of chewy filth bantered about by its four would-be robbers getting even with a hard man who sent one of them down for a year by framing him for a drug crime. The widescreen landscape of this cold, spent north is of fallen industrial advantage turned to wrack and ruin, and in it, the quartet speak of the other world, of “twats” and “flash bastards” who keep them down. We’re decades past the Kitchen Sink school, this kitchen’s sunk. The dialogue is more convincing than the stylized likes of early Guy Ritchie, and the actors—Iwan Rheon, Gerard Kearns and Matthew Lewis—mostly keep to wry naturalism. The scarily devoted quartet conspires to rob Roper (Neil Maskell), a burly skull skulking in a too-tight down vest, a drug-running princeling who lives by threat more than true power, pretending to care not: “You can call me all the twats under the sun,” he says, hoping all curs might cower (as well as fume and plot behind his broad back). There are parallels to the “Oceans” series as well as to the knottiness of “The Usual Suspects,” which “Wasteland” resembles in its scrambled, perhaps not entirely forthright flashback structure, with Harvey (Luke Treadaway, “Attack the Block”) telling D. I. West (Timothy Spall) his version of what they’ve done. “There is certainly authenticity to what you say,” Spall intones sonorously but cheerily after hearing one part of the planning. So far, so-so, it seems, as the deliberately paced proceedings feel stock yet still engaging at that point, and that’s when writer-director Rowan Athale springs his finest surprise: The plot turns. It turns again. Oh, it turns again. Then? It’s click-clack cheeky delirium all of a sudden, and again. “Complicated” would be wild understatement. There’s a terse, tart romance too, and it’s not only between these put-upon young men of the North. Beware the trailer: it’ll wreck most, if not all, of the fun. With Vanessa Kirby. 108m. Widescreen. (Ray Pride)
“Wasteland” opens Friday at Facets.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.