The moment Tommy enters the young offender’s institution he immediately begins the task at hand, picking out the aforementioned gang members and picking them off one by one. But if Tommy is to get to the bottom of the attack on his girlfriend, he will not only have to get past a corrupt system, but will also have to contend with the manic-eyed leader of the gang, Jake (English Frank).
What follows is a red bull-fuelled, testosterone-filled punch-athon that has little to offer other than a barrage of prison drama clichés. Although its raw Brit feel plays to its strengths, Offender struggles to set itself apart from other prison movies and despite its connection to the London riots, the film’s message gets lost in the abrasive plot and incessant thumping, and ultimately feels completely irrelevant.
While Joe Cole offers a convincing turn as the ruthless teen, his character lacks the emotional development that made, say, Tahar Rahim’s Malik in A Prophet such an enthralling character, and instead Tommy becomes reduced to a pair of fists and bleeding knuckles smacking his way through the film. The backstory between him and his girlfriend is rushed and ineffective, and the plot devoid of any complexities wears it very thin. The rest of the prison is occupied by an assortment of stereotypes, none more so than the shallow, two-dimensional villain, Jake, whose crazed, twitchy and downright deranged demeanour is over-egged to the point that it becomes almost unbearable.
Ron Scalpello’s handheld camera provides some of the film’s best sequences, nicely capturing the chaos and claustrophobia of the prison particularly in one of the opening scenes as the alarm is sounded after a suicide in one of the cells, and even more so during a particularly frantic shower fight scene. The handheld sequences, along with slow-mo effects, angled shots and colour tints certainly give the film a stylistic quality but falls short of ever feeling stylish.
Despite a dynamic lead performance, Offender is let down by poor characterisation and a dull plot. Offender sells itself as a product of the London riots and so it is a shame that it doesn’t seize the opportunity to produce something of real pertinence, and in the end the only parallel that can be drawn between them is their respective unwarrantable violence.