It’s easy to see what inspired busy actor Idris Elba to make “Yardie” his feature directing debut. Based on a 1992 cult novel by Victor Headley, the story explores a thread of criminal culture that spans from 1970s Jamaica to 1980s England as told through the eyes of D (for Dennis), a Jamaican gang member (or “yardie”) haunted by the murder of his peace-loving brother in a gang conflict 10 years earlier.
It’s a gritty, evocative tale with a conflicted protagonist struggling to survive a risky existence yet also do right for those he cares about. Sounds good, no?
So why isn’t the film better?
Unfortunately, the script by Brock Norman Brock and Martin Stellman loses its way once D (Aml Ameen) leaves Jamaica for London in 1983 to deliver cocaine for crime boss/father figure King Fox (Sheldon Shepherd). The deal goes south and D becomes entwined in the underground drug and music worlds.
D’s often rash or tenuous choices lead to some ineffective plotting and, in turn, uneven pacing. His yo-yoing relationship with Yvonne (Shantol Jackson), the childhood sweetheart he reunites with in London (along with their young daughter), also lacks coherence.
Elba brings care to the film’s performances, period look and musical elements. But the freeze frames, needless voice-over bits and stalled narrative momentum undercut the picture’s potential power and uniqueness.
In English with English subtitles to clarify Jamaican and British dialects
Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Playing: In limited release