The pandemic has shown us, among other things, how insecure people can be economically; how little it can take to make the difference between getting by and not, but this is a problem that was with us long before COVID-19. This first feature from writer/director Matt Chambers is about a Romanian immigrant (Alec Secareanu, best known for God’s Own Country) working as a pizza delivery driver to help support his wife Elena (Anamaria Marinca), teenage daughter Miri (Alexia Maria Proca) and baby son. One night after a shift, his moped is stolen and if he can’t find another he will lose his job and, because his boss is also his landlord, likely his home.
From the start, Chambers focuses in closely on his nameless lead (Secareanu is credited simply as ‘The Rider’). A substantial chunk of the running time is spent establishing the day to day reality of his grind: dropping his wife at her cleaning job, dropping his daughter at school, snatching a few hours sleep and then working deep into the night for what seems to be just enough pay to help tide the family over. We’re very much along for the ride, from deliveries back to the shop, and through it to the back where the other delivery riders hang out. It’s a first act that grounds us in the geography of London and in this family’s life.
After the bike is stolen, I half expected the film to ramp up into a one crazy night/day kind of narrative, but Chambers sticks with his grounded tone, even as the Rider grows more desperate things remain rather subdued. The best example of this, and perhaps the film’s strongest scene comes when he goes to pay the rent and asks—hypothetically—what would happen if the bike were to be wrecked. There’s a powerful air of quiet menace that grows under this exchange as it runs on and makes the rest of the film feel more urgent (and thus more credible).
The idea that the film is about how close life can be to the margins also comes through in Elena’s story, but while Marinca is effortlessly believable, it’s perhaps a little too neat for a film set over about 36 hours. It’s in the main narrative the themes stick, as options close off for the routes people might usually take in this situation. Secareanu’s performance is quiet but telling, with scenes in which he’s largely listening; sat across from his landlord, or when he starts to be questioned after going to report the moped stolen, being some of his most effective moments. A scene towards the end that sees him enlist some reluctant help doesn’t quite ring true with the early part of the film, but otherwise the sharp focus on the character and the performance allows us to empathise and largely go along with the character’s journey.
At just 71 minutes before the end credits roll, much outside the central thread of the narrative feels a bit slight. That late sequence that doesn’t quite ring true might have if we could spend a little more time with the other characters involved. Similarly, with a little more breathing space Elena’s job problems might feel a little less like a plot device and Miri might not simply disappear from the narrative. However, that driving part of the film works well, and Chambers delivers a promising debut, showing a talent for making scenes feel grounded and performances ring true.