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UK 1995
Directed by
Danny Boyle
93 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Shallow Grave

When three Glaswegian friends (Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston and Ewan McGregor) advertise for a new flatmate they think it’s all a bit of a lark. But the laugh’s on them when he ODs, leaving a suitcase full of money under his bed.

Danny Boyle’s debut feature film (he had worked extensively in television prior to this) is very much in the British tradition of macabre black comedy that goes back to classics such as Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) and The Ladykillers (1955).
Whilst in Boyle’s hands there’s more of the macabre than the comic the strength of John Hodges script is less in cheap thrills than it is in exploring what happens to friendship and trust when large amounts of money are involved, a theme famously dealt by John Huston in The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948).

With Shallow Grave the setting is modern day Glasgow and the protagonists three self-centred metrosexuals: Juliette (Kerry Fox), a doctor; David (Christopher Eccleston), an accountant; and Alex (Ewan McGregor), a journalist. The dilemma they face when Hugo (Keith Allen) dies is whether they do “the right thing” and hand over corpse and cash to the police or get rid of the body and party like it’s1999.

All up it’s a scenario well-suited to the film’s target demographic of twenty-something hipsters but beyond the cheap laughs Boyle doesn’t really get much out of Hodge's script. The narrative is simply too gruesome to be believable, too tasteless to be enjoyable.

A gnawing problem for me was also the film’s editing (or maybe casting ). Once the main narrative trajectory is established we cut away to two goons torturing what I thought were David and Alex at some time in the future, a glimpse into the future that made sense in this story of moral compromise and unjust desserts. When the goons are killed, however, this clearly was not the case (although in hindsight one feels it would have been more interesting than what actually happens) . Fortunately I saw this on DVD so could go back and ascertain that they were in fact not David and Alex but just a couple of stooges who looked like them.  Why this should be so however (McGregor and Fox also looked quite like each other in some scenes) I have no idea although it can hardly have been unnoticed..

FYI: Boyle Hodge and McGregor would re-team and get the mix right with their next film, Trainspotting (1996).




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