It’s fairly safe to say that the travelling community in Britain is somewhat shrouded in mystery. Unless you buy in to sensationalist headlines or trashy wedding programmes, not much is known about the goings on. Director Adam Smith brings to life the story of the Cutler family – who are actually a travelling family based in Gloucestershire – and their brushes with the law. This is a film that steers clear of stereotypes and, instead, delivers some truly interesting relationships.
At the heart of Trespass Against Us is Chad (played by Michael Fassbender), who is trying to give his children a better upbringing than he was subjected to, along with more positive prospects for the future. For now, his hands are tied by his father, Colby (a brilliant Brendan Gleeson), who insists he carry on the family trade of thieving – despite heavy police surveillance.
This is as much a film about fathers and sons as it is about travelling culture. Gleeson’s character rules over the travellers site and dictates who will perform each robbery. He denied his son any schooling and, as a result, thieving is his only way of providing for his family. He rattles out quasi-religious edicts and seems desperate to keep the traditional ways going and prevent his own little band of outlaws from modernising.
Smith – who is perhaps better known for directing music videos for The Chemical Brothers – makes his feature debut with Trespass Against Us and the twelve years it took to bring it to screen was worth the wait. Despite fairly lukewarm reviews from the Toronto Film Festival, the film keeps the pace and has just the right blend of break neck action and human emotion.
As part of the robberies, Fassbender’s character leads the local police on several high speed chases in the small hours. These are absolutely thrilling to watch, as you are often positioned inside the car, barely able to make out much of the field ahead. The pulsating soundtrack lends itself well to the shaky camerawork and first person viewpoint.
The Gloucestershire police, however, are not painted in such a great light. They are abusive, using prejudicial slurs towards the community and are often incredibly heavy handed. It’s odd that, despite the fact that Fassbender is a thief and a troublemaker, you do root for him to escape the clutches of the local ‘gavvas’.
Two scenes, in particular, stand out. The first is when armed police enter the Cutler’s caravan whilst the family are sleeping. Smith opens the scene with the Chad’s two children waking up to find a SWAT team holding their weapons just inches from their faces. It’s incredibly frightening and elicited several gasps from the audience. Fair enough, Fassbender is a bit of a wrong ‘un, but don’t bring the kids in to it. It’s quite upsetting to watch the young children scream and cry.
The second is one in which a frustrated and recently bailed Fassbender takes his anger out on Gordon Bennett (played by Sean Harris). Bennett is clearly a mentally disabled individual who can barely wash and care for himself. Fassbender degrades him by throwing rocks at him, looping his neck in a dog catcher and finally stripping him and covering him in bright blue paint. His abuse is so feral it was incredibly uncomfortable to watch – and one of the few times where it’s impossible to feel sympathy for Chad.
With both the law and his father cracking down on him, Chad’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic as he attempts to forge a better life for his children away from his past transgressions.
Smith delivers neat ebbs and flows as the film flips between poignant family moments – namely between Chad and his son, Tyson – and the fast paced, tense collisions with the police.
Whilst the film may not receive much in the way of cinema space, it’s definitely worth the watch. Fassbender gives a far better performance here than he has in any of the bigger blockbusters he’s starred in. Gleeson is on form as always and, when you know a story has a basis in real people, it can encourage you to become more emotionally invested.
It will definitely leave you with mixed feelings and asking a lot of questions.