The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.
The Riot Club

Reviewed by Rebecca Rae.

Director Lone Scherfig
Length 107 minutes
Certificate 15
Rating ******----
Filmmaking: 3  Personal enjoyment: 3

Photo from the article I only learnt after seeing the film that Lone Scherfig is a female director. Should this have an impact on our impressions of what is on the surface, a male film? It’s certainly an interesting choice as her previous big hits One Day (2011) and An Education (2009) explore relationships between couples - with an audience alignment to the female. In some ways, this could be said of The Riot Club, which features a relationship between two freshers at Oxford University. Lauren (Holliday Grainger, who is fast racking up solid performances) and Miles’ (Max Irons) love story is portrayed with genuine sincerity and adds a much-needed human touch that is essential to the story.

Story, though, is a bit of a stretch here. The film follows a basic three-act structure. Act 1: Enrolment. Act 2: Initiation. Act 3: Destruction. That’s not to say however, that the Acts are balanced. Watching the bulk of Acts 1 & 2, you’re constantly waiting for something to happen. Although this is frustrating whilst watching the film, it makes sense with hindsight. The film itself centres on 10 members of the male-only, extremely selective (and real life) Riot Club and the disorderly shenanigans they get up to (I use the word members with deliberation - this truly is a bunch of dicks). Their boredom and frustration with the traditional rigours of university life (“Some people think they’re actually here to get a degree”) builds from minor drunken escapades to a shocking, violent climax, although as the audience you’re left wishing that the something you were waiting for to happen, didn’t happen.

With overtones of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), this is a piece dedicated to the male. Leadership of the club is constantly questioned throughout the film, and is skilfully handled by Scherfig. The alpha male position wants to swing back and forth between new recruit rivals Miles and Alistair (Sam Claflin), but instead it jumps unwittingly about each member. This keeps up a much needed pace and time spent on each character is subtly done. It also achieves the distance needed to view the group as a whole collection of differing individuals, rather than an assembly of unknown lackeys obeying orders, as with Alex’s droogs in Clockwork.

It’s an interesting comment on the psychology of what happens when individual males come together. When separate from the group, some of the boys seem alright - yes, they are snobs, yes, they are crude, yes, they are a bit disgusting. But they are not monsters. Indeed, Harry (Douglas Booth) is angelically portrayed when first revealed, and there is definitely a point to be said about the female gaze within the film. When they come together, however, attitudes and egos are inflamed to the point of inhumanity. There’s certainly an element of performance here, wonderfully captured when the club poses for its annual Riot Club Dinner photograph. It’s also encapsulated in Rachel’s (Jessica Brown-Findlay) line, “Boys will be boys.” A statement that’s become the target of several recent anti-rape campaigns, the film really does try and point out just how bloody stupid and vile a group of boys can be, particularly when it comes to sex. That said, it also points out just how hard it is to resist a handsome chap in a well-tailored suit; the film finishes with Alistair smugly swanning off into the streets of London to the tune of “O, come let us adore him”. Perhaps the film comments then, too, on how stupid girls are to not recognise a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s worth a watch as it throws up some interesting ideas, particularly with regards to the current rise of gender equality.

This review was published on October 14, 2014.

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