Director David Blair's drama Best Laid Plans is anchored by Danny, a small-time hood and addict who cares for a mentally disabled adult. Danny racks up debt to a local gangster that he is unable to pay back, and coaxes his gentle friend into fighting for cash. Best Laid Plans is not the fighting actioner its cover artwork suggests, but a thoughtful British drama with imperfect characters living on the fringe of society. Stephen Graham of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" gives drunken Danny a deep-rooted despair, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is compelling even without much dialogue as child-like Joseph.
Very lightly inspired by John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men," Best Laid Plans pairs mentally disabled Joseph with knock-around guy Danny in the modern grime of Guy Ritchie's London. Danny uses Joseph to pilfer heavy appliances from a store, but runs into gangster Curtis (David O'Hara), who threatens to break Danny's bones if he doesn't produce the money he is owed. In desperation, Danny gets Joseph to participate in organized fights for money. Joseph does not want to fight and does not understand the predicament. Danny commands each punch by promising Joseph he can go home as soon as his opponent is out cold.
Best Laid Plans shares little more than character outlines with Steinbeck's work, but stands as a solid drama. Joseph is brutally strong but completely unprepared for the toll his fighting will take on his body and mind. Danny becomes more desperate and Curtis more impatient, and Danny turns to drugs and the company of a prostitute (Emma Stansfield) for comfort. Best Laid Plans never goes easy on Joseph, who Danny takes in but does not coddle. Danny is quick to defend Joseph but directs his anger toward Joseph at the drop of a hat. Each man has a love interest in the film, and the parallel relationships are strikingly dissimilar. Danny and prostitute Lisa chase loveless physical interactions, while Joseph meets Isabel, who has a similar disability, and begins an innocent courtship.
Director Blair won a BAFTA award for British dramatic series "The Street," and proves adept at filming gritty drama. Blair shoots from interesting angles and keeps scenes lean and punchy, and actors Graham and Akinnuoye-Agbaje respond well to his direction. Graham's livewire energy is contagious, and Akinnuoye-Agbaje's impressive stature is matched only by the sadness he brings to the role. The villains of Best Laid Plans are generic, and a better antagonist would have validated Danny's fear of injury and death. The film treads water with Danny's self-loathing during its midsection, but offers him some redemption in its conclusion. While the narrative of Best Laid Plans is somewhat predictable, its characters are nicely rendered.
The 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is appropriately gritty despite being shot on a Red One digital camera. The image is starkly detailed and textured, with deep backgrounds and rich close-ups. The gruff color scheme is nicely saturated, and blacks rarely crush, although the image is a bit too dark during some of the indoor fight scenes.
Each of Joseph's punches lands with aural force on the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, which is equally strong during quiet character interactions and action sequences. Dialogue is clear and nicely balanced with effects and score, and the surrounds are used for both ambient and action effects. An English Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is also included, though no subtitle options are available.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Best Laid Plans is a two-disc set that includes the Blu-ray and a DVD copy of the film. The discs are housed in a standard Blu-ray case, which is wrapped in an embossed slipcover. The only extra is the film's theatrical trailer (2:53/HD).
This satisfying British drama from David Blair pairs a scruffy low-level gangster with a mentally disabled adult, and is inspired by classic novel "Of Mice and Men." "Boardwalk Empire's" Stephen Graham uses Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje to repay his debts by convincing him to fight in organized matches. The film's characters operate on the outskirts of British society, and the contrast between each man's love and work experience is blunt. The leading actors give strong performances, and Blair's direction is skilled. Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.