Best Laid Plans (of mice and men)
Set against a grim, urban backdrop, Danny (Stephen Graham: This is England, Boardwalk Empire) and his gentle friend Joseph (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: Oz, Lost), whom he looks after and who has the mental age of a child are faced with a terrible ultimatum. To pay off Danny's mounting debts to local crime boss Curtis (David O'Hara: The Departed, Wanted), Joseph must reluctantly battle his way through a number of unlicensed cage fights. As the fights get tougher their friendship will be tested to the very limit and it soon becomes unclear whether the unlucky pair will even make it out of their dangerous situation alive.
This gritty British drama benefits from the profile and talents of two major leads and paints a grim, disturbing world of crime, drugs, dirty money and gangsters. As a loose adaptation of the famous John Steinbeck novella, Of Mice and Men, Best Laid Plans offers an interesting parallel and incorporates the well-known elements of the story into its own moody world. Taking an illegal cage fighting theme to run against, the drama benefits from some impressive (though irregular) bursts of action and violence, consistently made brutal and unpleasant to watch. But the emphasis remains on the drama and the relationship between the two main characters, along with some new female relationships they make along the way.
Ultimately, some elements of the film and delivery work very well and others struggle. The overall tone hits hard and the direction is sharp and straight to the point. The performances are, for the most part, very good and Stephen Graham delivers yet another nasty, characteristically loathsome performance. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, playing the innocent Joseph really pushes the ‘child like’ inspiration but due to it being way over-the-top, it was hard to take his character seriously. The ‘gentle giant’ angle should have been emphasised more, whereas the performance comes across, at times, as unintentionally comic. There are still some great moments from Adewale, such as a scene where he’s just finished pounding his latest opponent half to death and breaks down, crying in the middle of the cage. It packs an emotional punch and appears reminiscent of Frankenstein’s monster, a reluctant creature Danny has created.
The fight scenes, though far from being the focus, are handled well and show some variety as each opponent brings their own style and specialty to the cage. It’s also nice to see Brit Martial Arts actor Mark Strange (12, Bodyguard: A New Beginning) feature in a small role as Vinny, a cocky, high-kicking fighter in the lineup of opponents. But take note, despite the cage fighting element (or misleading action orientated artwork), the film is very much a character-led drama with a few bursts of action, rather than an all-out action piece. For fans of moody, gritty dramas and stories with some punch (quite literally!), Best Laid Plans is worth seeking out.