The Kid

The Kid; if Rocky was a Londoner and not fed on corn.

The underdog sports film has certainly been done to death by now, especially in the shape of American imports such as Rocky; diverting therefore it is when a home-grown variant arrives, not much matter that it adheres fairly stringently to the inspirational sports pic format. Nick Moran’s The Kid, adapted from Kevin Lewis’ devastating autobiography of the same name, muddies the formula up enough with a gritty depiction of abuse and hopelessness in South London, though Moran’s heavy-handed direction often dampens what is on its own terms a horrific and affecting story of triumph over insurmountable adversity.

Essentially, The Kid is a grim life tale of three parts, from Lewis’ troubled home life in the mid-1980s, raised by an abusive stepmother, Gloria (Natascha McElhone), and an alcoholic father, to his surprising rise to entrepreneurship with the help of no-nonsense gangster Terry (David O’Hara), and when hard times abound once more as debts mount and tensions run high, we witness his desperate attempt to tie everything off once and for all.

In spite of its directorial indulgence, this is nothing if not a startling effort, the first act being unquestionably the strongest, beginning with strikingly inventive low-budget credits, followed by a harrowing depiction of the agonising pattern of abuse that Kevin suffered at the hands of his vicious stepmother, played marvellously by an almost unrecognisable Natascha McElhone. Gone are her perfect features; in a tawdry knitted cardigan, with coke-bottle glasses, greasy hair and rotten teeth, she is utterly repulsive in every regard, and her go-for-broke vigour, in the success of its performance, makes this film a frequently uneasy viewing experience.

In a less showy role, Ioan Gruffud shines throughout the film’s first third as Mr. Smith, a school teacher eager to help Kevin, though in keeping true to the actual events, his screen time is sadly limited, and aside from these earlier scenes, his only appearance is in a fleeting reunion scene at the film’s close. The various young actors who portray Kevin, meanwhile, manage to hold their own and are very well-selected. Having so many incremental actors playing him at such proximate ages is a brave gamble that actually pays off.

While the dense first act is a well-woven examination of a life defined by violence from the home to the playground, Moran seems unsure of how to steer things by the half-way mark, glossing over several important interactions in Kevin’s life – the loss of a fatherly mentor especially – and distending the film’s more cliched elements, such as when Kevin begins street fighting to earn some extra dough. The love interest, Jackie (Jodie Whittaker), is also fatally underwritten, making it difficult to care too much about their struggle no matter how much we want Kevin to improve his situation.

Moran also becomes unstuck in the later passages; a white-tinted montage during a life-or-death moment is unspeakably corny, as is the intrusively maudlin soundtrack, pitched too neatly to each and every emotional peak and trough. There are, however, generally enough authentic moments to generate some sense of valid emotion, and Friend’s chameleonic performance as the most prominently-featured Kevin is evidently well-researched, accentuated by a brief clip of the real Kevin at the film’s end, which allows a good comparison. It is just a shame that, despite the visual flair of the photography, the caliber of the performances, and the gritty affectation that the story invites, Moran’s predilection to pathos is so jarringly rote.

Given the incredible true story, a far better telling was possible, but the storming first act primes The Kid with enough power to weather the film’s issues of pace and overdone sentiment. There is great work done here, and with some tweaking, this could have been a cult classic.


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