X: NOV seemed to split critics on its theatrical release. Our Lisa Giles-Keddie didn’t seem to think much of it, whereas Nigel Floyd of Time Out (and occasionally Radio 5Live) treated it more kindly. Certainly its more exploitative elements (lots of nudity, relatively graphic sexual content, drug taking, strong language, bloody violence) will alienate some and draw others in according to your tastes and preferences, but it remains an unlikely film to unify critics and audiences to a commonly held view.
In its simplest terms the story is a prostitute’s version of Heat, Heist, or any number of other “one last job then I’m out for good” narratives. Ordinarily that would signal that this is unlikely to end well for all concerned, though to its credit the film keeps its cards close to its chest and it is unclear until very late on who is going to make it to the commendably low-key finale. With the film having initially been marketed as being with the exploitation genre (which can be pretty much anything, good and bad), there is the concern that it is going to tip into hysterical incoherence and excess, however it remains a good deal more measured and affecting than that, with a scene depicting an encounter between Hannah and two drug-addicted teens in the adjacent hotel room proving especially distressing.
Although it is not a film that has much to say that is new (prostitution is horrible, lots of dirty old men want very young girls, drug addicts are stuck in a seemingly inescapable cycle, bent cops are mean, bad people do bad things, nice people get caught up in messy situations), it conveys it well on what are clearly very meagre resources. The acting is a hugely mixed bag, with the two main female roles well-played but the assortment of male supporting characters proving at times to be out of their depth in articulating depth or even something resembling character. Some blame for this must attach to the script, which fails to flesh out any sort of back story for anyone other than Hannah and Viva, though more capable performers would undoubtedly have been able to make more of even such limited material.
If nothing else, the running time is sensibly brief and there is a compelling sense of atmosphere, which should be a given with most of the scenes having been shot on the hoof in the very district in which the events unfold, but credit where credit is due – the director presents a suitably grimy, dangerous and seedy milieu, alternating between sharp, crisp hotels and apartments and unfeasibly run-down “pay by the half-hour” dives.
Not everyone will enjoy this. I certainly didn’t but that is more because this is not my sort of thing rather than any particular failing on the film’s part. To each their own and all that. Worth checking out if you like this sort of thing.
Extras: A making-of documentary shows how well the production worked around its financial constraints, including filming a convincing-looking shot of a man getting hit by a car. After that there are a multitude of interviews with the actors, writer, director and producer in a variety of combinations. They give a bit more background to the various characters, not all of which is clear from the film itself and show that the principals have considered their characters pretty carefully.The relationships between the characters is given a bit of an airing as well and these different perspectives are a welcome bit of insight.