The eponymous club is a raucous, ten-man tribute to hedonism; a privileged group of ultra-rich Oxford boys who yearn for the days of a true upper-class, disgusted by the fact that people from all walks of life can get into Oxford nowadays. The film begins with a new term starting and focuses on two new Riot Club members Miles (Max Irons) and Alistair (Sam Claflin) as they undergo the the entry process and hazing rituals. The pair instantly take a dislike to each other and fall into fairly obvious goodie/baddie character tropes, with Miles singled out as the one to root for, being lumbered with a morality that feels incredibly forced.
The Riot Club isn’t afraid of overstatement, its characters arrive in a parade of stereotypical caricatures, winning fencing bouts, sipping fine wines and doing very little study. Cutting through the haze of snobbery are Miles and his girlfriend Lauren (Holliday Grainger), practically the only grounded characters in the film.By the third act, though, even Miles doesn’t seem worth supporting, leaving the audience with little respite from the slew of dislikable characters.
Not that the drama is ever dull, the film’s centrepiece is a darkly tense dinner party that promises to descend into chaos long before it ever does, creating an edgy atmosphere that feels ready to explode at any minute. The problem is that it’s all just a little too obvious to be truly gripping. The film tries far too hard to make its audience hate these people that it forgets to provide anything to appreciate. By its denouement, one finds oneself not caring about what happens to any of them.
The Riot Club is an occasionally fun, but grotesquely caricatured and ultimately flawed mockery of the upper-classes. Its messages aren’t just worn on its sleeve, they are scrawled in ten-foot letters across a banner and hoisted from the dorm window of an Oxford quad. Disappointingly, its not nearly smart enough to get its point across in a way that is worth paying attention to, no matter how loudly it shouts.