REVIEW: The Riot Club

3 01 2016

The Riot Club“I am sick to [expletive] death of poor people,” exclaims Sam Claflin’s Alistair Ryle as he tops off a liquor-powered rant during a madcap evening of debauchery. It’s perhaps the most obvious moment in Lone Scherfig’s”The Riot Club” where pointed satire and heightened drama become so blurred that they are practically indistinguishable. But the film is chock full of such instances where the unbelievable and the believable intersect, making its vanguard of posh college-aged British males both entertaining and odious.

The sharpness of its social commentary is no doubt related to the story’s origins on the stage; Laura Wade adapts her own play for the screen. At times, the roots show as easily half the film transpires in one protracted scene at a single location. While this might count as a liability for many movies, it actually comes out as a net positive for “The Riot Club.” Once this long dinner gets set up, the focus can remain solely on the words and how they express simmering tensions as well as larger themes.

The film proves plenty interesting leading up to this climactic reckoning, too. “The Riot Club” begins as a tale of two aristocratic young men, in many ways foils for each other. Claflin’s Alistair enters Oxford as entitled as they come, though without the protection of his older brother on campus, he begins somewhat sheepishly. Max Irons’ Miles Richards, however, seems to draw out the smugness in Alistair with his laissez-faire attitude towards the nobility he can expect to claim with his social status.

Max Irons Sam Claflin The Riot Club

As fate would have it, the two lads end up as the newest members of the Riot Club, a centuries-old social club for the most upper-crust gents of Oxford. The shared experience of hazing from the upperclassmen of the bunch only exacerbates the difference between Alistair and Miles, creating a rift that ultimately jeopardizes the club’s very existence. And for each of their more senior peers, that simply will not do.

The Riot Club, for them, is like the last sandbox – the ultimate stop for them to indulge their wildest, most debauched instincts without the slightest fear of repercussions. Yet, hauntingly, the club’s deep roots grant them a kind of impunity that may well be borderline irreproachable in Britain. “The Riot Club” is a fictional tale, sure, but boys like this graduate into the men that dominate their political and economic spheres. Their behavior is not disposed, just adapted for survival’s sake. Dismiss the film, but look around the real world and see what people like its characters hath wrought. B+3stars

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