Adam Smith’s Trespass Against Us is the Parenthood of crime movies. It’s a story about how to raise a family in a unit so unstable that one false move could tear it apart. This certainly isn’t unfamiliar territory, but when done right, it is always compelling. At the outset, this certainly has the look of a great film. We have two immensely talented leads in Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson, some slick cinematography and a fairly new director eager to cut his teeth.
The story centers on a family of outlaws living in a woodland trailer park. Colby Cutler (Brendan Gleeson) has the entire group under his thumb, employing most of them to avoid getting an education in favor of simply listening to his twisted catholic wisdom. His son Chad (Michael Fassbender), wants everything his father doesn’t. While he still engages in petty crimes, he has his kids enrolled in school and hopes to escape his father’s clutches one day. He’s desperate to stand up to his father but is terrified of the ensuing consequences. This fear drives him into deeper trouble, eventually threatening to tear his entire life apart.
In the tragic aftermath of X-Men: Apocalypse and Assassin’s Creed, it is wonderful to see Michael Fassbender in a film deserving of his talent again. While Chad is a very charismatic man, he’s also filled with insecurity and anxiety. Fassbender holds all of this below the surface but we can always feel it lurking underneath. It’s the kind of subtle intensity that he’s built his career on. Gleeson is even stronger as the magnetic and stubborn Colby. Arrogant one minute and kind the next, we see why these people all follow him, even if he’s deeply misguided. He’s the web that traps all of the other characters into doing his bidding. Lyndsey Marshal is also solid in the underwritten role of Chad’s wife Kelly, while young Georgie Smith is surprisingly subtle as his son Tyson.
At the core, this is a film about fathers and sons, and Alastair Siddons gives that theme plenty of room to breathe in a rather short screenplay. There’s some fantastic dialogue here, particularly when the film is contrasting Colby’s methods of parenting to Chad’s. We also get a really clear sense of the dynamic of this small community. They’re rough around the edges, but at the end of the day, they’re inseparable. Even Sean Harris’ mentally ill pyromaniac Gordon feels at home, even if his purpose often involves annoying the others with his matches and chickens. There isn’t a great deal of time given to the crime-driven elements of the story because frankly, they’re not that interesting. It’s a focused story that makes no apologies for spotlighting its most critical elements.
In fact, the story is occasionally tight to a fault, particularly in its treatment of the female characters. We don’t really get much from Kelly beside the fact that she’s a good mother and that she’s worried. It would’ve been nice to see her interact with a few more characters besides Fassbender so that her arc could be extenuated a little more. Chad also has a young daughter who hardly gets in a word of dialogue, who seems to suffer from some reverse ‘Interstellar ignored child syndrome.’ Sure, Chad tells his daughter that he loves her from time to time, but we never see them even have so much as a conversation.
Adam Smith’s direction is solid but he never quite finds a voice of his own. He’s clearly trying very hard to capture the essence of what makes movies like these great. The colors are nicely muted, the chase sequences are fluid with a palpable element of danger, and the violence is restrained but disturbing. However, there’s nothing that really sticks out about it, as he mostly relies on the screenplay to take center stage. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but a director with a bit more flourish could’ve easily taken this film over the top.
There’s something to be said for a film that efficiently tells a well-crafted story. There is no fat on Trespass Against Us, as it relies on fluid writing and solid performances to bring its themes home. Unfortunately, it never quite evolves into anything unique. It’s a movie that certainly walks the walk and wears the clothes of its inspirations, but never quite joins them. In fact, this is the rare film that could stand to be a little longer. It would’ve been great to see some glimpses into Chad’s childhood or his initial courting of Kelly. Something that could put a little more meat on the bones. As is, this is a solid little movie that could work its way into your day without feeling like it is trespassing.