The Riot Club (2014)
★★ / ★★★★
Two first-year students at Oxford University, Miles (Max Irons) and Alistair (Sam Claflin), different in personality and temperament but both from a privileged background, are invited to join a highly exclusive group called The Riot Club, known throughout the years for recruiting only the boldest, best, and brightest yet with a proclivity toward decadence. After Miles and Alistair’s initiation, the club, composed of ten members, hold an annual dinner at a country pub where limits of both patrons and hosts are tested.
Based on Laura Wade’s play “Posh” and directed by Lone Scherfig, “The Riot Club” is a challenging picture to sit through because it is unafraid to embrace the darkness necessary to show the ugliness of privilege and immature minds. And yet it just misses the mark from becoming a required viewing because the The Riot Club members blend into one another most of the time. It is easy to tell the actors apart physically, which is credit to the casting directors, but the differences in the characters’ perspectives on life and values are not detailed enough, only painted in broad strokes. Although uncomfortable to sit through at times, I would have preferred to learn about each one of them further even if it meant sitting through a three-hour film.
The working class characters standout, from Miles’ girlfriend, Lauren (Holliday Grainger) to the owner of the Bull’s Head pub (Gordon Brown) at Kidsbury. Grainger is particularly effective, especially in the scene where Lauren is humiliated during the dinner for not being as posh and for being a woman. She balances hurt, anger, and feeling ashamed with such perspicuity, I felt rage build up inside me as the scene unfolded. The key is that she does not play victim—which elevates the scene.
There is a lot of disgusting behavior here—so much that, about halfway through, I wondered what the point of it was. It is necessary that we feel inundated by snobbery, aggression, destruction, and hedonism in order to truly understand what it means to be a member of the club. However, when there are exchanges involving one character telling another that he or she must be jealous for not being in the group, there is a lack of power in the insult because the screenplay does not show very many perks—substantial ones—in belonging. There is talk about ensuring a great future ahead, likely in a position of power, but it is important that we see or recognize the immediate benefits, too.
Moving at a confident slow burning pace, “The Riot Club” is a movie that is meant to divide, I think. It can be argued that these boys have certain sociopathic tendencies that it becomes very difficult to even try to relate to them on any level. At one point, one of them proudly exclaims that he is sick to death of poor people. I was amused by these types of drunken proclamations because hatred are spewed out so easily but there is no compelling thought behind them. Sadly, there are people like these boys so it makes one consider the core values their parents instill into their children before they develop the ability to think critically.