Kevin Lewis (Miller, Prew, then Friend) was born in South London into a violent home in which his sharp wit sparks extra physical abuse from his mother (McElhone), while his drunken father (O'Neill) either watches helplessly or is bullied into taking part. But along the way Kevin finds compassion from a care home manager (Hill), an alert teacher (Gruffudd), a compassionate foster father (Fox) and a supportive girlfriend (Whittaker). But all of this could be undone by his dodgy business decisions.
The film's main flaw is the fact that the protagonist wrote the script. It's not badly written, but Lewis keeps too many incidents in here, leaving the film feeling episodic and repetitive, with the result that it's not easy for us to engage with Kevin or feel the emotional force of his situation. With a bit of dramatic licence, events and characters could have been combined to make the same points with much more dramatic force.
One result of this approach is that Friend's performance feels oddly cold (Miller and Prew are more effective because they play the character at more vulnerable ages), while everyone else is rather blankly good or bad. So it's system itself that makes us react, as Kevin's life goes through chapters of abuse, deprivation, false hopes and broken promises. Watching him fall through the cracks is harrowing, even when he causes his own downfall. But the ups and downs begin to drag badly, and the conclusion feels tidy and cute.
Even with these problems, Moran adeptly creates a vivid visual sense of the time that beautifully echoes the dramatic storyline. The scenes with McElhone are absolutely terrifying; even though her performance is a little over-the-top, the filmmaking puts us right into her line of fire. Combining this kind of harshness with engaging warmth is no mean feat. It makes us look forward to what Moran does next, especially if he develops the confidence to take more control of the narrative.
Run time: 68 mins
In Theaters: Sunday 6th February 1921
Box Office Worldwide: $2.5M
Distributed by: First National Pictures Inc.
Production compaines: Charles Chaplin Productions
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
IMDB: 8.4 / 10
Director: Nick Moran
Producer: Judith Hunt
Screenwriter: Kevin Lewis
Starring: Charles Chaplin as A Tramp, Jackie Coogan as The Kid, Edna Purviance as Mother, Albert Austin as Man in shelter, Beulah Bains as Bride, Carl Miller as The Man, Henry Bergman as Night shelter keeper, Kitty Bradbury as Bride's mother, Nellie Bly Baker as Slum nurse, F. Blinn as His assistant, Frances Cochran as Extra in reception scene, Frank Campeau as Welfare officer, Bliss Chevalier as Extra in wedding scene, Elsie Codd as Extra in alley scene, Jack Coogan Sr. as Pickpocket / Guest / Devil, Estelle Cook as Extra in wedding scene, Dan Dillon as Bum, Philip D'Oench as Extra in wedding scene, Lillian Crane as Extra in wedding scene, Robert Dunbar as Bridegroom
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