sun 01/08/2021

I Know You Know | reviews, news & interviews

I Know You Know

I Know You Know

Unexpected tale of a father, a son and a gun doesn't quite go off

Robert Carlyle: every time he plays a wacko he finds a new colour

Justin Kerrigan was only 25 when he made Human Traffic. A bristling portrait of rave culture at the dawn of New Labour, it did well enough commercially and enjoyed a cultish afterlife on DVD. That was 11 years ago. Kerrigan hasn’t made another film since. Or hadn’t. With I Know You Know he returns with a script from his own pen. Whenever a promising debut is followed by a long silence, the question is always the same: was the wait worth it?

It’s hard to say, and that’s partly to do with the character at the heart of a perplexing portrait of psychiatric breakdown. Robert Carlyle plays a freelance agent of indeterminate professional status. Charlie certainly has a gun, that much we do know. And he has returned to South Wales on a private jet to do one last job before he can retire with one of those fancy-dan big pay-offs. If that makes it sound like half a dozen films you’ve already seen, it shouldn’t. We never see the job in question, although it possibly involves a satellite broadcasting giant which has planted its monstrous footprint in the area. And Charlie certainly never gets paid.

His other quirk is that his son Jamie is in tow. Motherless, Jamie is quickly parked in a rough school where he has to navigate a path past bullies and loneliness. A resourceful, inquisitive boy, he soon intuits that his father is up to something: the gun, the evasiveness, the midnight flits. Surveillance, he reckons: MI6. Convinced that he’s being watched, Charlie enlists his son as an accomplice, and the unspecified job is soon completed. Then the money fails to turn up, and Charlie ever so slowly starts to crack up under the weight of galloping paranoia, and the possiblity dawns that perhaps there never was a job in the first place.

Somewhere inside this strange chamber piece is a touching portrait of fathers and sons. Where most boys slowly discover their parents’ quirks and weaknesses over years, Jamie is on a much sharper learning curve. His father instils in him the courage to beat the crap out of his tormentor at school, but much greater courage is required of him when Charlie’s breakdown mutates into dangerous mental illness; he has to become the father himself.

This is Carlyle’s kind of role. Every time he plays a wacko trying to keep a lid on his derangement, he contrives to find a new colour. But the real joy of the film is Arron Fuller, who can’t have been more than 12 when I Know You Know was made but somehow finds a way to portray Jamie’s rapid accretion of unwanted wisdom. It’s also beautifully shot among the unpromising post-industrial townscape of terraced rows and bleak pokey flats.

As for that wait, it is evidently a deeply personal film – Kerrigan makes it clear in both opening and closing credits that the film’s dedicatee is his father – but whether all the intended flavours quite come out is another matter. The final scene is immensely moving. The preceding narrative, with its impactions and opacities, doesn’t quite earn the right to such a pay-off.

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