Writer and Director: Michael Elkin
Football, tennis, ice-skating and even motor racing have been the subject of big budget movies, but no one imagined that snooker would be next on the list. Writer-Director Michael Elkin has other ideas and his new film Break, premiering at the Drive-in club, throws all the sports film clichés up in the air and rearranges them into a heart-warming story of working class aspiration, decency and the belief that whatever the social and economic circumstances talent can be realised.
Spencer Pryce spends his time dealing drugs, sitting on street corners and playing snooker with his mates at Rays. When his father is released from prison, Spencer is thrown into the path of coach Qiang who promises to help him win an amateur tournament in Beijing. But first Spencer has to master his demons as an outstanding drug debt and his self-sabotaging attitude threaten to derail him.
Set in and around London’s small and largely empty snooker halls, Break adopts some of the sports movie structure, taking an unpromising character with little self-belief and through trial and tribulation transforms them into the person they were always meant to be. What is so enjoyable, and sometimes surprising, about Elkin’s film is how easily the overarching sports-hero template makes space for stronger narratives that develop Spencer’s character and has much to say about the fleeting opportunities available to young men.
This is Elkin’s first full length film as a director and it is an impressive debut, capturing the anxiety of working-class London life in which violence and delinquency are a heartbeat away, depicting the consequences of knife crime, petty theft and the legacy of the East End gangsters of the 1960s. But this is only one aspect of Elkin’s film, and instead the focus is on the essential decency of the characters, of families and friends who care for each other, trying to make amends for their mistakes while getting on with their jobs each day. It is still so rare to see decent working-class people depicted in this way, and you may want to punch the air that cinema is finally moving away from the stereotypes.
The depth in Elkin’s characters adds considerably to the viewer’s empathy for and belief in Spencer as the story unfolds. This is such a great performance from Sam Gittins as Spencer, a role that could easily have become a two-dimensional troubled youth refusing adult help and sulking. Instead Gittins gives a rounded characterisation, a good lad who helps his neighbour’s children, loves his family and wants more but just needs a push in the right direction, and watching Spencer overcome each set back is affirming.
Among the supporting roles, Luke Mably is affecting as Spencer’s errant father Terry desperate for his son to have a better life while Terri Dwyer as mum Cathy and particularly Sophie Stevens as girlfriend Shelley show Spencer the value of hard work. David Yips’ Qiang refuses to indulge his young protégé and then there’s Rutger Hauer in a small but pivot final role as gangster Ray who runs the snooker hall and takes more than a passing interest in Spencer’s future.
Richard Swingle’s cinematography is lovely, gritty when it needs to be but with enough glamour to suggest Beijing and the finale tournament, which is beautifully lit. Elkin includes some great shots of the various snooker games but as a subtle and modest British sports movie there are no fitness montages and no grandstanding about the saviour-like nature of sport; instead Spencer works hard to reach his goal and the audience is with him every step of the way. With deep understanding and compassion for the circumstances of the characters portrayed, Break is about taking the chances when they come along; who knew a snooker film could be a trick shot.
Released on 22 July 2020