The trailer for Offender may lead you to believe that this film has much to do with last year’s urban rebellions. However, the riots are only used as an enabler for a poor prison revenge film.
The action starts with our protagonist, Tommy, attacking two police officers amidst the riots and then being sent to a young offenders’ institution.
He’s happy about this because he can now take revenge on the rioters who attacked his pregnant probation officer girlfriend, Elise, causing her to miscarry.
Through a series of badly filmed flashbacks, we see this narrative expand via awkward sex scenes, more rioting and the eventual break down of Tommy and Elise’s relationship.
The film portrays those rebelling as balaclava-wearing, Molotov cocktail-throwing black teenagers. Women played no part in the uprising, at least according to the film.
In the midst of this, a gang decides to take advantage of the police being overstretched and raid a jewellery store.
While raids on shops did happen during the riots they bore very little resemblance to those in Offender. The people involved weren’t kitted out in leathers, riding super-charged bikes, or armed with high-tech guns.
The film does makes reference to the killing of Mark Duggan, but only with the throwaway line, “It ain’t about opportunism—the police executed a brother.”
This is the closest you get to any decent analysis of the riots. It could almost be forgiven if the few interesting characters in the film were developed.
There’s Essay, a young black teenager imprisoned for his part in the disturbances. His ambition is to go to university, something others in the film ridiculed him for. Whether it was the tuition fees hike or the cutting of EMA that motivated him to riot, the film never shows us.
Then there is Mason. While in the institution he converts to Islam and seeks forgiveness. He spends his time with the Muslim gang inside.
They are represented as generally peaceful people. They try to break up fights and stop a prison riot. But if you are a “bad” Muslim, apparently they will kill you.
Jake, who leads the raid on the jewellery store, becomes the main “bad” character. The reason he is so bad, the film tells us, is simple—he comes from a broken home.
There is also Nash, the sadistic and corrupt prison guard who likes to starve and beat prisoners in solitary confinement. But this behaviour is excused, because he was in the army “fighting for this country”, and now has nothing while the rioters have “taken everything”.
In the end, none of this matters, because the makers of this film clearly don’t really care about looking at the issues. It’s aimed as a raw thriller, but ends up being boring and offensive. For example, the scene of Elise’s miscarriage tries to be “artistic” but is actually just insensitive and crass.
Whenever the film looks like it might make a political point, it quickly runs in the other direction to show more violence.
Offender brings nothing new to the debate. If you’ve heard about this film and thought it was about the riots—don’t buy into the idea it has anything to do with them. Don’t waste your time watching this film.