Substitute cars for horses and this is a cowboy movie. There’s the same tribal loyalty, the same love of the outsider, the same revulsion towards authority. The heroes and villains of the wild west become the cops and robbers of regional Britain.
We could also see it as the travellers’ answer to The Godfather. If this is the case, Colby Cutler (Brendan Gleeson) is Don Corleone, a vaguely threatening figure whose surface bonhomie conceals a latent threat the film fails to exploit.
This is one of its few disappointments. In the main it’s a thoroughly accurate depiction of a nomadic set of people who live in (and for) the moment. Such a culture is profoundly unsuited to its time, the laidback airs of its denizens almost appearing primitive on occasion. This is in stark contrast to the settled community the travellers only tenuously attempt to inhabit.
If it is indeed a cowboy film in disguise, Michael Fassbender – Colby’s son, Chad – is the Jesse James of the piece, an apparently uncatchable ne’er-do-well who eludes the police with near-contemptible ease as he engages in one crime after another in his area. He reserves his gentle side for his wife and children.
Colby’s disdain for anything purporting to religion or education is more fierce than that of Fassbender, who seems content to let conservative society do its thing as long as it doesn’t impinge on his free-spirited ways, or those of his family. Lyndsey Marshal is brilliant as his wife as is Georgie Scott as his son.
It’s Fassbender’s film really. He steals most of the scenes he appears in just as surely as he plunders the local stately homes in a series of daring raids. Both he and Gleeson capture the Gloucestershire dialect to perfection.
The 15 cert is due to the film’s chirpy sense of irreverence and its preponderance of four-lettered words but these are necessary to reflect the society it depicts.
An air of tension underlies many of the scenes. Adam Smith, directing, leads one to believe a cataclysmic climax is on the cards but the film ends with a whimper.
This isn’t necessarily a fault but when something looks to be headed towards a fireball finish and then that fireball doesn’t arrive, one is entitled to feel shortchanged. We wait 90 minutes for a confrontation between father and son but Gleeson’s part just fizzles out in the end.
Like most gunfighters in westerns, Chad eventually runs out of road. The way he takes his punishment is as charismatic as everything else about him.
At its best, Trespass Against Us approximates to the quality of a documentary. Locked somewhere between Thomas Hardy and John B. Keane, it’s an ode to individualism that makes us take Chad’s side unequivocally in its dying moments as he submits resignedly to his fate – and intimates a more stable future for his son.
Very Good ****