Rancid Aluminium (2000 with Rhys Ifans and Joseph Fiennes)

UK / 2000

Director: Edward Thomas
Writer: James Hawes (from his own novel)

Cast: Rhys Ifans, Joseph Fiennes, Tara Fitzgerald, Sadie Frost, Steven Berkoff

In present day London, Pete Thompson’s (Rhys Ifans) cushy life is rudely interrupted when his father dies, leaving him to run the family’s publishing business. Irked at his best friend’s sudden power, accountant Sean Deeny (Joseph Fiennes) plots to take over the company using capital borrowed from shady Russian mobster Mr Kant (Steven Berkoff).

When Pete is called to Russia to meet his new investor he takes the chance to seduce Kant’s daughter Masha (Tara Fitzgerald), if only to ease his growing fears of impotence. When the old man finds out, he shoots Thompson, sending out a warning to his other debtors to pay up, or face similar penalties. Which leaves Deeny free to take power, make profit and live a life of uninterrupted hedonism. Naturally, it’s not that simple…

Ed Thomas’s first film as director is by turn ambitious, baffling and hilarious. Then again so was its source: a novel whose lightweight tone is deceptive and original. Letting an author adapt his own work has two consequences: it allows for utter fidelity, but at the same time can breed indiscipline. Where another writer may have changed structure and tone, Hawes moves wholesale from page to screen.

The resultant padding is visible, and Thomas relies on Ifans (the pair worked together on House of America) to keep up the momentum. The Welshman obliges, deploying expert comic timing and personality. He also manages to make the rich, adulterous wideboy (not the most instantly sympathetic figure) credible and likeable. The same goes for Fiennes, whose double-dealing bean-counter is perfectly pitched to soak up the boos and hisses.

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