This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017.
Trespass Against Us is a relatively solid crime thriller, albeit one that suffers slightly from heavy-handedness and clumsiness.
At its core, Trespass Against Us hews close to a tried and tested crime movie formula. Chad is a family man who is working hard to ensure that his children have a better life than he ever enjoyed, making sure that his children get an education that was never available to him and trying to do right by his long-suffering wife. At the same time, Chad struggles against his familial connections to organised crime, with his free-wheeling driving skills inevitably drawing him into his father’s tangled web of plotting and scheming.
The most innovative aspect of Trespass Against Us lies in the decision to transpose those tried-and-tested character and plot beats to a novel setting. Audiences are well accustomed to epic crime stories about familial obligations set within the Irish American or Italian American communities, but Trespass Against Us unfolds against the backdrop of a family of Irish Travellers living in rural England. It is an interesting juxtaposition, given how relatively under-exposed that community is.
Trespass Against Us earns a lot of credit based on the novelty of its setting and the fantastic cast that it has assembled. However, a lot of that goodwill is squandered on a very conventional plot and an awkward clunking heavy-handedness that trips the script up in its third act.
Michael Fassbender is a great actor. He offers a genuinely compelling performance in Trespass Against Us, presenting Chad as a young man who always wanted a better life than the one afforded him. Chad is a fantastic getaway driver, which becomes a recurring thematic point. Not only is Chad in the process of planning his own getaway from this life of crime, but driving recklessly (“off-roading”) offers him a freedom that was never really possible. This is indicative of how Trespass Against Us pitches its metaphors, very heavily and occasionally awkwardly.
However, there is also a certain awkwardness to casting Fassbender in the title role. As much as Fassbender might capture the yearning and desire of Chad to escape his surroundings, he still looks and feels a lot like a conventional leading man. Even in a tracksuit, Fassbender still looks like a man who works out every day. In Trespass Against Us, Fassbender just looks like he has taken to dressing down and not shaving. There is a clear physical transformation, but one that is not as thorough as it needs to be.
The obvious comparison to Fassbender in Trespass Against Us is Brad Pitt in Snatch. Even accepting that there were problems with the cartoonish and stereotypical nature of that portrayal, Pitt made a conscious effort to disappear into the role. Without going that far, the supporting cast in Trespass Against Us integrate more readily into the gritty aesthetic of the film; Brendan Gleeson, Killian Scott, Barry Keogh and even Sean Harris are much more convincing parts of this particular world.
Still, Fassbender’s raw energy carries the film quite far. Certainly, his dynamic with Gleeson is a lot more satisfying than their “father-son” dynamic in Assassin’s Creed. Fassbender hits all of the necessary character beats for Chad, helping to sell the idea of Chad as a man yearning to break out of his world and to offer his children opportunities that were unavailable to him. There is a grand sense of tragedy to that classic crime film arc, and Fassbender conveys that effortlessly.
Gleeson is also very good, playing the role of patriarch to this clan. In fact, some of the strongest scenes Trespass Against Us feature Gleeson squaring off against various members of the ensemble, offering off-kilter proverbs as words to live by. The role demands very little of Gleeson physically, with the character constantly standing stoically or sitting quietly, but Gleeson always conveys a sense of raw power. As with Fassbender’s performance, Gleeson’s presence helps to sell what might otherwise be a very conventional plot.
Alastair Siddons’ script is endearing in places. The script returns time and again to the image of wild animals, and the thin barrier that separates mankind from beasts. It is no coincidence that the film opens with Chad chasing a hare across the countryside, or that Colby stands watch over his clan from a converted horsebox. Chad hides from the police by merging his heat signature with a cow. His son’s desire for a dog is a recurring sticking point. These are hardly the most innovative of crime film metaphors, but Trespass Against Us commits with gusto.
Similarly, Colby’s religious fixation adds a sense of nuance to a character that might otherwise seem nuanced. Colby’s religious references and artifacts are often in direct opposition to his beliefs and behaviours; he chastises Chad for breaking the commandment that requires him to love his neighbour, but readily steals and pilfers. Colby listens to religious rock music while driving in the car and wears a crucifix, misquoting and misattributing scripture, but there’s never a sense that the patriarch believes in any authority greater than himself.
However, for all these thematic touches enrich Trespass Against Us, the actual script is very heavy-handed when it comes to character development and description. Colby is quite plainly a self-interested and manipulative old man who cares about little other than himself, however a late scene in the film has the character act with cavalier disregard for the safety of his grandchildren as if to reassure audience members that this gangster might not be a nice person.
This is particularly true when it comes to exploring the prejudice that exists against the Travelling community, which really comes to the fore in the final act of the film. The first two acts of Trespass Against Us spend so much time inside the family that there is no tangible sense of a world beyond these characters. As a result, when Chad comes up against prejudice in the third act, the script ladles it on to ensure that the audience gets a sense of how Chad lives. At one point in the third act, Chad literally states, “This is prejudice.”
Still, there is a lot to like about Trespass Against Us. Despite these storytelling issues, director Adam Smith can film a car chase. There are a number of impressive car chase sequences in Trespass Against Us, from the opening through to the mid section of the film. There is a genuine sense of energy and adventure to them, something that captures the appeal of these chases to Chad, explaining why the character is so drawn towards them.
Trespass Against Us is not a bad film by any measure. Unfortunately, it is just a little bit too clumsy to be a good one.
I don’t normally rate films, but the Audi Dublin International Film Festival asks the audience to rank a film from 1 (worst) to 4 (best). In the interest of full and frank disclosure, I ranked this film: 2