Twin Town

(Kevin Allen,
UK, 1997)


It may be an affliction peculiar to critics, but all the way through Twin Town I could not help mentally rounding up all the films with which it shares pronounced affinities. The ease with which I could do this points to what is irritating about this movie it is a largely derivative, unoriginal piece but also what is mildly pleasurable.


Twin Town belongs not a genre per se, but to a loose modern tendency. Like Idiot Box (1997), Small Faces (1996) and Metal Skin (1994), it is essentially a story of petty criminal acts in a thoroughly depressed, run-down environment. All these films use a narrative slow burn towards a final, messy conflagration of violence and rebellion. All stress the misery of an urban, working-class culture, in which sex is usually tawdry, furtive and unsuccessful. And all, strangely enough, have characters who bum around talking uncharacteristically about art, music and poetry.


Twin Town has a generous spread of plots and characters that slowly tie together by the end. Young Julian (Llyr Evans) and Jeremy (Rhys Ifans) burn around the Welsh town of Swansea in stolen cars, taking drugs and generally causing trouble. When their father Fatty (Huw Ceredig) injures himself at work but is refused compensation by the local, cheesy Mr Big figure, Bryn (Sion Tudor Own), an infernal cycle of retribution begins.


Stumbling, almost despite themselves, into this mess are two local cops, Greyo (Dorien Thomas) and Terry (Dougray Scott). They are both on the take from Bryn, which compromises their behaviour and sense of morality somewhat. And, to make matters even more explosive and less predictable, Terry is something of a sociopath, given to impulsive, muddled gestures of pure aggro.


The film with which Twin Town will be most compared but the one it least resembles is Trainspotting (1996), since the makers of that film serve as producers here. Yes, there is a certain amount of tasteless hi-jinx involving substance abuse and bad language, and a similar sense of the hopelessness of a contemporary milieu.


But Twin Town has little of the energy or anger that fuelled Trainspotting and it certainly lacks that film's high-wire nerve. The difference is especially evident when the topic of death inevitably comes around. Trainspotting did not flinch from the horror, and the black humour, of gruesome death. Twin Town dances around the subject gingerly, unsure of whether it wants to treat death as a fleeting gag or a matter of great pathos.


Director and co-writer Kevin Allen keeps the sprawling plot moving well, and stages some hilarious moments. But it is a repetitive piece which harps endlessly on another theme common to petty-urban-crime movies: the dream of escape shared by all the characters.


Films of this ilk, it seems, have only two options: to cruelly deny characters their desperate, pathetic dreams; or, on the contrary, to suddenly materialise these dreams in a magical, perhaps hyper-ironic fashion. I won't give away which option Twin Town takes, but I will say that it feels easy and pretty uninspiring.

© Adrian Martin July 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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