Sunday 24 September 2017

Director enjoys playing with our minds

Play toys with its audience by pressing buttons to find out who's racist
Play toys with its audience by pressing buttons to find out who's racist

Paul Whitington

Film Review: Play (No Cert, IFI, 118 minutes) 3 STARS

Director: Ruben Ostlund Stars: Anas Abdirahman, Kevin Vaz, Johan Jonason

Set in the Swedish port city of Gothenburg and inspired by real events, Ruben Ostlund's tricksy drama toys with its audience by pressing buttons to find out who's racist.

Three white boys in their early teens are swanning around a shopping mall buying fancy trainers and playing on their mobile phones when they're targeted by a group of five black kids, wannabe gangsters who know an easy score when they see one.

After approaching the boys and claiming that one of their phones was stolen from them, they begin following them around the city and closing in for the kill.

Ostlund's camera often pulls back into deliberately sterile long shots that evoke those awful CCTV clips from such crimes as the Jamie Bulger case and fill you with a sense of dread.

The white boys are pathetically biddable, the black kids in thrall to a clever and charismatic leader.

At various points the white kids try to appeal to adults for help, but don't seem to be able to effectively communicate their terror.

The boys' story is intercut with a farcical sequence on board a suburban train involving a regulation-obsessed conductor, and Ostlund seems to be castigating a society that's fixated on petty rules while ignoring the bigger picture.

His film also examines the addictive nature of power and the innateness of human cruelty, but the director's bloodless and clever-clever tactics made me feel a bit like a lab rat, and Play ultimately feels more like a social experiment than a drama.

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