An adaptation to cinema of any kind is a challenge and it is no different for the closing film of this years’ Glasgow Film Festival, Beats.
Kieran Hurley’s stage play is set in a Scottish town that follows two best friends, Johnno (Cristian Ortega) and Spanner (Lorn MacDonald), in what is a coming of age film set against the backdrop of the ’90s rave scene.
Director Brian Welsh grabs your attention immediately with the films striking black and white display. It is set in a time of youth up-rise against the establishment in protest of The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 that makes “gatherings of people around music characterised wholly or pre-dominantly by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats” illegal.
This gives way to the pair in revolt following the path to an illegal rave in what you feel is their last big blowout together.
You are convincingly taken back to the 90s with the films general aesthetics and also snippets of Tony Blair launching New Labour on TV in what is then Britain under the Conservatives.
From the very beginning, you witness social division; Spanner in a high-rise flat with his older drug dealer brother, Fido (Neil Leiper). You then have Johnno in a nice house and a seemingly nice family environment.
There is a subtle tone of sadness in Beats, highlighted through Spanner’s relationship with his abusive brother. We witness a moment of humiliation where Spanner is thrown outside in nothing but pants to the equally uncomfortable scene involving a cooker. The latter is key as it acts as the catalyst for the events to follow and the journey to the illegal rave with Spanner stealing his brothers’ money.
There is natural chemistry and genuine affection between Cristian Ortega and Lorn MacDonald. Yes, it seems the only mutual interest between the two is music but despite this, it still feels like a genuine connection.
It is hard, though, to not draw parallels with these characters and their relationship to that of Trainspotting’s Renton and Sick Boy. And even that of the relationship between Renton and Spud.
These characters are an influence to Hurley in some way but don’t quite have that same magic.
Lorn MacDonald as Spanner is the stand-out performance that carries the emotional elements to the film in what is the actors’ cinema debut. You are automatically drawn to this eccentric character and how MacDonald handles the complexity of his personal struggles. It is a performance that forms the heart of Beats.
To counter that melancholy there are moments of comedic relief that are genuinely funny. The pace of the film, however, is an issue when we reach the final act and the illegal rave. The film has a great opening scene and a steady build throughout but when we get to the rave it all falls flat.
You begin to feel lost but not in a good way during a scene where there is a psychedelic light show, of sorts. It continues for longer than it should and is borderline indulgent to the point where you disengage with the film.
What is a surprise is that music is the backbone to the film yet is used sparingly, it feels, in the opening and, of course, final scene.
The politics it does tap into is only momentarily and is a lost opportunity to add further depth to the story.
At the start of Beats, you feel the high of the unknown ahead but feel the harsh reality of the comedown when it doesn’t quite deliver.