Is there anything that Idris Elba can’t do? The British actor has moved to the A-list with a screen persona that is equally suave and charming but possible to carry a sense of menace, all of which has made him a fan favorite to be the next James Bond. Whatever the future holds for Idris Elba as the star of blockbusters remains to be seen, but the star is already moving on into a new facet of his career making his directorial debut with Yardie, an adaptation of the novel by Victor Headley. Yardie is a solid directorial debut from Elba, a crime drama that features shades of City of God and The Harder They Come.
The film begins in Kingston, Jamaica in 1973. Caught in the crossfire of an ongoing gang war in the streets of Kingston is young D (Antwayne Eccleston) who is looked after by his older brother Jerry Dread (Everaldo Creary). During a show meant to call upon the people of the city for peace, Jerry Dread is gunned down as his younger brother witnesses the slaying. It’s a moment that will haunt D for years to come. Very early on, Elba establishes the confluence of crime and poverty in this overlooked corner of the world.
Years later, D (Aml Ameen) is working for the gangster King Fox (Sheldon Shepard), who makes his money by being the brute force behind the music industry. But the music industry isn’t providing the returns he wants so King Fox finds himself entering the cocaine trade. King Fox tasks D to travel to London as a cocaine courier to deliver the dope to a local crime boss Rico (Stephen Graham). The simple deal doesn’t turn out to be so simple, and D has just found himself entwined in a new circle of ruthless criminals in a new part of the world. However, there is one bright spot in traveling to London – reuniting with his love Yvonne (Shantol Jackson) and their young daughter. D’s return may reunite a family separated but it also drags them into a dangerous world of the criminal underbelly Yvonne tried to leave behind in Jamaica.
Weaving between these various plot threads is a strong performance by Aml Ameen, as the actor is tasked with making the desperate D through a range of emotions. Ameen is able to capture the essence of a love reunited and able to flip that warmth into a chilling sense of fear as the external forces of the criminal underworld around him come closing in. The young actor is also able to bring a palpable sense of inner-rage to D, especially when the character encounters the man he believes killed his brother all those years ago.
Through D’s journey from the underworld of Kingston to the underworld of London, Elba takes the audience into a world rarely represented on the screen. It’s a hard knocks life where playing by the rules keeps you on the bottom. D has to fight to crawl his way out of the muck. As far as being a crime film, Yardie remains mostly familiar. Elba has a great sense of pacing that the more clichéd elements of the crime story on display don’t detract from the film as a character study. The weakest element of the screenplay by Brock Newman Brock and Martin Stellman is the overreliance on narration, often leaving the film more interested in telling the audience what’s going on as opposed to showing. But Yardie is able to overcome its weaker aspects because the film is always pushing its characters and story forward.
Yardie is a solid directorial debut for Idris Elba. At this point, though, it’s safe to say that Elba is probably more comfortable in front of the camera than behind it. However, Yardie is still a sharp look at a world underrepresented on the screen and by no means is it a vanity project for the actor-turned-director. Idris Elba will continue to be a major star on the screen, but Yardie suggests that he may very well have a very illustrious career as a director.
A strong directorial debut from Idris Elba, Yardie may have a number of crime movie clichés but works because of a strong cast and a glimpse into an underrepresented underworld.