No real heels here: A droll, soleful search for inner good seamy Londonstreets

November 10, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

Clint and his droogs are a sorry lot, almost as if they'd been imagined by Gus Van Sant in collaboration with Anthony Burgess. The scene is West London, the time is now, the motif is petty crime and dope dealing, and the overall moral imperative is: Get by any way you can.

This pretty much amounts to lives lived without either fear or awareness of consequences, as documented in squalid, almost clinical, focus by Hanif Kureishi in "London Kills Me," which opens today at the Charles.

Clint (Justin Chadwick) is sweet and beautiful, malformed by a hideous childhood and utterly without the ability to conceptualize beyond a day ahead. He will steal from any one at the drop of a hat. And he will steal the hat. Then, almost miraculously, it is as if he forgets, and he will face his victims -- usually his friends -- without a morsel of remorse.

But his main problem is shoes.

After being beaten and stripped by other droogs (from whom he'd borrowed money and, in his sloppy way, had never bothered to pay back), he resolves to get out of the life and find a real job. A kind American tells him he can sign on as a waiter in his trendy diner if, and only if, Clint gets himself a decent pair of shoes.

Thus, the narrative thrust of the film: "Quest for Shoes." It's an anti- heroic lurch through the squalor of a delusionary society.

Kureishi is a connoisseur of decline, of course, having written both "My Beautiful Laundrette" and "Sammy and Rosy Get Laid." He has a playwright's ear for the banal poetry of society's farthest outsiders and a heart open enough to insist upon locating the goodness in each of them.

And that's the central fascination of "London Kills Me": that each of these crippled children has some moral center, no matter how imperfect his or her attempts to express it. Clint desperately wants stability and virtue in his life: that he steals and lies to achieve them never trouble him. Kureishi is cheerfully non-judgmental as he follows Clint's attempts to achieve ownership of decent shoes, and his subtle playwright's sense of prankishness keeps moving the leather promised land just ahead of poor Clint's attempts.

It's a skillful, subtle manipulation of ironies, all of them droll, set amid the debris of a collapsed civilization. The abandoned children of West London seek love among the ruins, or even shoes among the ruins, but the way is long and the path is hard. Clearly, they are in times that try their soles.

'LONDON KILLS ME'

Starring Justin Chadwick.

Directed by Hanif Kureishi.

Released by Fine Line.

Unrated.

** 1/2

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