directed by Jay Bhatti
After an incredibly punchy opening, both literally and affectively, which intercuts brutal violence with its sorry aftermath, our protagonist is barked at by a gruff individual with an eastern European twang; “wake up the boss wants to talk to you”. And thus, we approach the titular talk which takes up the bulk of the films runtime.
This central dialogue takes place in a shadowy cell, where chiaroscuro lighting casts harsh shadows onto every facial crease while forcing the background to fall into nothing but blackness, effectively isolating our two characters not in space but in the conflict of their conversation. The British boss opens up first, a criminal attempting to break our already beaten protagonist into releasing information about the unnamed “agency” that he works for. The boss’s opening monologue is masterfully crafted to fill us into the back story behind these characters—explicating the what, when and why of our protagonist’s dire situation without ever feeling over-expeditionary. And, although he starts out with his lips zipped, when our protagonist turns the scene into a dialogue ideological swords clash and tension ramps up.
Each line is delivered with vocal and bodily conviction, with the two characters wrestling for power in the intense and lengthy scene. Topics shift from purely plot-based moments to mentions of larger themes of breaking one’s own moral compass in order to survive and thrive. It’s fair to say that the success of this project rested solidly on the shoulders of these two actors, and they blew it out the water to create a central scene that was not only interesting but also wholly engaging.
They did so much of a good job, in fact, that I noticed the film’s tone fall into a lull after the dialogue subsided and the promise of more violence ensued. While this is a negative for that particular moment, it is testament to their solid performance that the clashing of words was far more engaging than physical conflict—something which even veteran filmmakers can struggle with.
The lighting stands out as a staple of the film’s identity. The opening scene uses a strong key shot through a fan to add flavour, movement and the feeling of claustrophobia, while the central scene, as already discussed, uses lighting to hit home its conflict. Due to the limitations of the seated dialogue, the cinematography takes a back seat for the majority of the film. While it captures the character’s faces excellently, I couldn’t help but feel distracted as we constantly shifted between a dead-steady tripod shot of the boss and a Parkinson’s-esque close up of our protagonist. Sure, this decision can be narratively defended as a reflection of the power in the scene, but while the power dynamic of the conversation was continually shifting the camera work remained exactly the same—meaning such a justification only feels half-baked.
The first sequence provided a punchy cross-cutting edit, adding to the immediacy and world-building of the beginning. But past that individual sequence it’s fair to say that the techniques of the filmmaking were employed to quietly highlight the performance, instead of provide flair of their own.
Underneath the wholly engaging presence of The Talk, I couldn’t help but feel there was an ideological weak point. Both of our protagonists spoke in decisively British accents, and both were previously members of the revered “agency”. The only other character we encounter is a brutal man, seemingly infatuated with violence, and he has a strong—seemingly simulated—eastern European accent. For me, this played into reinforcing the damaging cinematic stereotypes (mainly propagated by US cinema) of the brutal eastern European criminal, doing so for no reason beyond the entertainment value such a stereotype brings. It’s certainly important for cinema of the 21st century to not fall into traps such as these without good reason.
Overall, The Talk is incredibly captivating with actors David Omordia and Dan Furlonger carrying the film on their shoulders while receiving support from strong writing and overall visual design. Although the overt themes of the film are certainly worth considering, it’s important that we don’t lace projects such as these with twisted underlying ideologies that bow down to established stereotypes about race.