Internalized self-hatred fuels a black skinhead finding validation by way of brutality in Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s “Farming.” The mercilessly lurid account is based directly on the writer-director’s teenage experience as a product of a practice through which thousands of Nigerian parents fostered out their children to white British families between the 1960s and 1980s.
Raised with a fragmented cultural identity in a country where anti-immigrant sentiments fester, U.K-born Enitan (Damson Idris) disowns his heritage after a scarring visit to his birth parents’ homeland. First resorting to talc powder in order to hide his skin, he eventually exchanges his dignity for the company of a vicious pack of rabid skinheads who only welcome him halfheartedly. One-note but convincing, Idris’ performance seethes with furious abandon.
Disheveled in appearance, Kate Beckinsale impresses in her best work since “Love & Friendship” as prejudiced Ingrid, Enitan’s guardian caring for half a dozen other kids. In a small part as a concerned teacher, Gugu Mbatha-Raw represents the only ounce of tenderness found in the entire picture. The filmmaker plays his own father.
Excessive in its reliance on songs with lyrics that essentially narrate what’s onscreen, many performed by Akinnuoye-Agbaje himself, “Farming” revels in violence at the expense of introspection. Some distance between the source and the story would have benefited the themes at play, which end up buried beneath punches, slurs and bestial masculinity.
Dishearteningly, Enitan’s transition from lost soul to a scholar and now an artist gets shoved into the final minutes left over after all the bleakness. Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s admirable life story gets reduced to its most sensational chapter.
Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes
Playing: Starts Oct. 25, Vintage Los Feliz 3