Thursday, April 01, 2010

Review - I Know You Know

For his first feature film since 1999's Human Traffic, Justin Kerrigan has reached into his own past and pulled out a story that's unusual, fascinating and deeply personal. Based on the director's childhood, I Know You Know is set in Wales in the 1980's, which is where Charlie (Robert Carlyle) and his 11 year-old son Jamie (Arron Fuller) are returning to at the start of the film, having spent the summer away. Charlie is introduced as some kind of government spy, who travels the world on top-secret operations and lives a life that is a million miles away from the dreary council estate location they now find themselves. Nevertheless, Charlie promises his son that this is simply a temporary stop, and that he has one last mission to complete before they can both begin a new life in America.

I Know You Know begins as a father-son story with thriller undertones, but as Jamie finds himself being drawn into his father's espionage world – being tailed, dropping off mysterious packages – it gradually becomes apparent to the boy that something isn't right with this situation. As a result, the film hinges on a twist that turns it into a completely different movie, but the fact that the two halves of the story mesh so well is testament to Kerrigan's straightforward direction and tight screenplay. Aside from a couple of clunky moments, the director handles the film's tone confidently, finding a fine balance between the tense cat-and-mouse scenes that Charlie involves Jamie in and the more mundane reality of their domestic lives. Kerrigan's direction lacks the ostentatious flash he displayed in Human Traffic, and instead he allows I Know You Know to unfold at a much steadier pace, filling his film with details that feel authentic and allowing his two lead performances the time and space they need to bring an emotional weight to the drama.

The film's emotional impact really emerges in its second half, when it develops into a wrenching study of a boy's unwavering love for his father. As Charlie, Carlyle is an inspired piece of casting, playing the suave spy we meet at the film's opening with a slick charm, but adding a real sense of dangerous unpredictability to his work as his character becomes increasingly paranoid and unstable. It's a terrific, charismatic display from this always watchable actor, but it's a performance that could easily overpower an inexperienced co-star, which is why the casting of Jamie is so crucial. An untried actor, Arron Fuller is sensational as the child who has to mature before our eyes and make some painful choices about his beloved father's fate. His acting is natural and empathetic, and the relationship he shares with Carlyle is the motor that elevates I Know You Know beyond the limitations of its low budget and turns it into a surprising and ultimately very touching drama.

Read my interview with Justin Kerrigan here.