Brotherhood – “Noel Clarke ups the girls and gangsters in a tale that loses the charm of the series”

An ensemble tale of youths in London, Kidulthood charts the challenges and changes in their lives in an engaging and shocking manner, rooted in a truth many teenagers experience. Adulthood followed two years later and the third entry, Brotherhood, landed earlier this year – ten years after the first film showcased an innovative, urban British story.

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Frustratingly, the nuanced characters and relationships that made Kidulthood so memorable is lost in Brotherhood, as Noel Clarke ups the girls and gangsters in a tale that loses the charm of the series.

Sam Peel (Noel Clarke) was a bully and criminal in Kidulthood; a repentant and ashamed man in Adulthood; now he’s a family man in Brotherhood. In love with his girlfriend and a proud father of two children, his world is shaken when his brother is hurt by a group of gun-slinging gang-members. Aware that he has a family to protect, Sam is dragged back into the life he was keen to leave behind. There are racist Essex criminals, an excessive, ugly use of nudity and a violence that’d suit James Bond more than this dark drama of London. Trying to tap into the gritty and brutal nature of its predecessors, Brotherhood fails at adding anything new or unexpected to the story.

Akin to Richard Linklater’s time-spanning tales (the Before Sunrise trilogy or Boyhood), Noel Clarke’s trilogy could’ve been an incisive take on London lads in the last ten years. There was always something likeable and fresh about the first two films, with a diverse cast who had to grow up as life continued around them. Adulthood forced Sam to come to terms with his demons, while Jay (Adam Deacon) and Mooney (Femi Oyeniran), who had separately moved on, were suddenly forced to come back together and deal with the anger they had buried deep, after Trife’s death in the conclusion of Kidulthood. Instead, Brotherhood attempts to revive the series in a new guise, as most characters are dropped entirely for a story built around Sam. He seeks forgiveness still but, considering how difficult it is to shake the shackles of the past, he comfortably picks up his trademark murder weapon, a baseball bat, when revisiting his old lifestyle.

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Ultimately, Brotherhood struggles to really pull the disparate threads of its plot together. Curtis (Cornell John) returning is a welcome face but he is weakened by becoming subservient to the wild gang leader, Daley (Jason Maza). There are scenes as Daley reels off xenophobic slurs while Curtis, without reacting, seethes with anger. The opening shooting of Sam’s brother is undermined in the first few minutes, as the I Know What You Did Last Summer use of a note (“It’s not over!”) seems thoughtless and lacks imagination.

There is little fun to be had, unlike the scrapes the school kids got up to in Kidulthood. Sam mopes around, desperate to change the past, and his troubled decision to be drawn back in is clearly at great odds with a reformed, rehabilitated criminal. There is a parallel somewhere with the butch Fast and Furious series, as good-intentioned law-breaking has to be balanced carefully with a likeable gang we can root for. Indeed, Brotherhood had the potential to build an interesting group on this side of the Atlantic, but decided to drop this dynamic for a primarily lone mission that, crucially, doesn’t make much sense.

Originally written for Culturefly in December 2016

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