Once Upon A Time In The Midlands

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Once Upon A Time In The Midlands
Review (7/10)
(By Alex Riviello)

This is a tough movie to give an opinion on. If you don't "get" British humor you won't get much out of this, but if you can deal with it, you'll find an entertaining and genuinely affecting movie.

Once Upon A Time In The Midlands is the latest independent movie by Shane Meadows, the director who previously made TwentyFourSeven and A Room For Romeo Brass, and his newest offering is probably his tightest. "Midlands" at its most basic is the story of a love triangle. Dek (Rhys Ifans) and Shirley (Shirley Henderson) are a couple whose lives are interrupted when the clueless but good intentioned Dek proposes to her live on TV. Shirley says no. Everyone they know sees this show, including Shirley's old boyfriend, Jimmy (Robert Carlyle), who decides that now's the perfect time to jump back into her life. He's sort of the bad boy (who else would Robert Carlyle play?) and is on the run from a few criminals he stole money from, so he must figure now's a good time to get settled. His teenage daughter (Finn Atkins) is stuck in the middle of all of this, as she's being raised by Dek and Shirley, and doesn't want anything to do with her real father.

This movie is a strange one, in that it starts off as a comedy, then gets into some very serious moments closer to the end. There are some great dramatic moments in the film, including one incredible argument between Jimmy and his sister (Kathy Burke), but at the same time there's some moments that'll leave you rolling, most of which include the oblivious Dek. Rhys Ifans nails this character that leaves you feeling bad, because even though he's a great guy, he's just such a goofball. Jimmy's the smooth bad guy that gets women, but doesn't care much about supporting a family. Shirley's situation is hard, as she's torn between these two, and you're never really sure what decision she's going to make. Great acting all around.

There's been talk that this movie is a modern Spaghetti Western, and while I can see what they mean (Bad guy comes into town, gets into fight with good guy, etc), it doesn't work out exactly like that. There's a lot of music that's reminiscent of an Ennio Morricone score, and there's some establishing shots that would look right in a dusty western town, but the feel of the movie is far from a western.

The only real problem with "Midlands" is the pacing. It takes a while to really get going - and it's worth it, but a lot of people won't put in the time (especially judging from the few people who walked out of the screening). That's a shame though - because it's one of the few movies I've seen recently with a lot of heart, and some pretty funny parts. Some of the humor is a bit hit or miss, most of which I'm guessing comes from the cultural differences.

So even though the movie takes some time getting going, it's a decent movie, and you'll get a few laughs out of it. I liked this one the more I thought about it. I have no idea how big this release is going to be, but if it's playing near you give it a shot. You won't be disappointed.

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