Yardie is Idris Elba’s directorial debut and follows D (Aml Ameen), who leaves Jamaica for the grey skies of London after an explosive confrontation in Kingston. The trip gives him chance to smuggle cocaine for Rico (Stephen Graham) and King Fox (Sheldon Shepherd), reconnect with the love of his life Yvonne (Shantel Jackson) and his daughter, and the possibility of revenge.
Yardie is based on a cult novel of the same name from 1992 by Victor Headley. We first meet D (short for Dennis) in Kingston in the early 1970s, and aside from the bloody turf war going on around him, his life seems pretty ideal. That is until he witnesses what one could call a defining moment of his childhood. This fateful night sets in motion a series of events that permanently shapes his life and that ultimately sees him end up in the 1980s in a grey and dismal London town.
The film is pretty much the culmination of director Idris Elba’s shift behind the camera over the last few years; a move that began with a sort-of autobiographical show on Sky in the UK, called The Long Run, and he’s creating a series for Netflix later this year. Yardie is a solid enough debut directorial effort but I hope that this isn’t the future of his career – it would be a shame to see him wind down acting altogether.
Yardie is a well put together film but it never quite goes beyond being unremarkable. The story is what you would expect for this type of gangster film: violence, double-crossing and hopes of redemption, but it is quite by the numbers.
The performances are pretty great across the board, with Aml Ameen being a really fantastic leading man – he’s a watchable and charismatic lead. Stephen Graham does what you expect Stephen Graham to do as Rico, the unhinged villain of the piece. He’s quite a caricatured “bad guy” and the moment he appears on screen you know instantly he’s not a man to be trusted.
The film does manage to capture the period details of 1980s London beautifully. This is the one area where Yardie really excels; not necessarily in the violence and criminality, but in the details of the community. The music halls and dance clubs feel alive and full of atmosphere, underlined with a fantastic score.
I found Yardie to be quite an uneven experience – the first half of the film was really engaging and then I thought that it lost its way a bit in the second half. At its heart, Yardie is a generic gangster thriller with most of the characters tropes that you might expect. As much as I liked Aml Ameen’s performance I think he was let down by the story – I found it really hard to actually like D. He muddles his way through the whole film, making everybody’s life miserable, I’m not even convinced that he gets his redemptive arc in the end. I left the cinema thinking, “Well, he was a bit of a dick.”
Yardie is a solidly-made film but it never manages to go beyond that. It’s a fairly assured debut but hopefully Idris Elba will take a few more risks in the future to produce something genuinely thrilling throughout. Yardie is by no means a bad film; it was an entertaining watch but I just couldn’t get on board with most of the main characters.