'London Town' Fails to Capture the Grittiness of Late '70s London


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Derrick Borte, director of the new drama London Town, has said that he remembers the very first time he heard the Clash. In 1980, a friend of his gave him a cassette tape (remember those?) of the band’s first album, and he was hooked.

Borte’s attempt to depict that magical moment in London Town, which centers on 15-year-old Shay (Daniel Huttlestone) and his friendship with the Clash’s Joe Strummer (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), falls short of the mark as the movie ultimately sanitizes a time period known for its social and cultural upheaval. The film opens on Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre.

At the film's start, we see young Shay’s life takes a turn for the worse when his music shop owner and part-time taxi driver father (Dougray Scott) injures himself moving a piano, making it impossible for him to drive his taxi and continue to bring in the extra income he needs to support Shay and his sister. So Shay takes it upon himself to drive his dad’s vehicle to help make ends meet.

One night, he befriends the charismatic Joe Strummer, who asks for a lift, and the two become pals. While Strummer is well on his way to becoming a celeb — he appears on TV at one point insisting upon the need for revolution — Shay doesn’t intend to ride his coattails. Rather, he's so drawn to the band's music that he dyes his hair black and begins hanging out on the streets of East London.

Shay, who lives in a modest neighborhood in a house where his family could be evicted at any moment, identifies with the music of the Clash because of his working class background.

While Rhys Meyers capably does his own singing and shines as the fiery Strummer, Huttlestone struggles to portray the complexity of his coming-of-age. But then, it’s as if Borte asks him to change from a boy to a man in a blink of an eye.

Predictably enough, the movie’s climax comes as Shay attempts to organize a benefit concert to save his dad’s shop. He tries to enlist the Clash as headliners, and the film’s final scene revolves around whether or not the band will actually show up to save the day.

One critic has called the movie as a “big brother fantasy,” and that’s an apt description of a film that Disney-fies the London of the late ’70s and early ’80s. Consider it a missed opportunity since the soundtrack, which features songs by the Clash as well as punk acts such as Stiff Little Fingers, Buzzcocks and the Stranglers, bristles with raw energy.

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