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Simon Read [Celluloid 07.04.17] United Kingdom thriller

Writer-director Justin Edgar's (We Are The Freaks) latest film is a gritty thriller based on themes of guilt and redemption, and follows the story of Marley (Frederick Schmidt), a gangster struggling with his conscience following a terrible event occurring early in the story. Set in Edgar's home-town of Birmingham, it's a broody but efficient film with several strong performances, particularly from Schmidt as our troubled and conflicted protagonist.

Opening scenes introduce Marley visiting a hospital morgue to identify the body of his recently deceased mother, as flashbacks show us how her addiction to heroin lead to her neglecting Marley as a child. With this in mind, we're perhaps unsurprised to learn that, as an adult, he's become a professional mob enforcer for the Irish mafia. The following evening, Marley is taking part in a small-scale heist to steal money and drugs from a group of Romanian gangsters. His boss Brendan - played by the always reliable John Hannah - issues weapons and joke-shop, rubber facemasks to his crew before they storm the house, and all hell breaks loose.
The critical moment, setting the story in motion, comes when Marley, confronted with a child hiding under a bed, inadvertently slashes the throat of the young girl's panicking mother with a machete, killing her instantly. He's caught by police and sentenced to seven years in prison, but thanks to his silence during the trial, is welcomed back into the fray by Brendan. However, we sense a certain reluctance on Marley's part to return to his old life.

During his time in prison, Marley has been continually haunted by the spectre of the woman he killed, and so he makes it his personal mission to ensure that her daughter is safe and well. This could be tricky, as the daughter, having been adopted by Brendan's suspiciously philanthropic father, has recently disappeared.
Marley now has to juggle his one shot at redemption, saving the girl (now a teenager), with his work for the mob. As the story unfolds, we discover a conspiracy which threatens to destroy any hope Marley has in finding peace, and finally freeing himself from his own self-condemnation.

If The Marker sets out to do anything, it's to tell a complete and satisfying story, and it does this rather well. Edgar's direction is strong and assured, and he proves himself a director to look out for. The film is short at around 85 minutes, and the pace is brisk, but this does not undermine the emotional content of the story, largely thanks to Schmidt's performance, the angst and pain conveyed by his character. In projecting Marley's feelings using a very minimal acting-style, the character's conflicted state of mind and crushing sense of guilt feels realistic.
Marley is literally a haunted man, followed everywhere by the ghost of his victim, played mute by Ana Ularu. Ularu's role here is critical, and her performance is powerful. She silently observes and judges Marley's actions, willing him to seek retribution, to avenge her daughter's death, despite overwhelming odds. Their scenes together are intense, full of sadness and regret, and this juxtaposes well with the film's frequent scenes of action and suspense, as Marley finds himself essentially having to take-down the very people who employ him in order to save his soul. The film may be capitalising on a formula, but it does so with a sense of melancholy, while at the same time working as a pretty brutal and uncompromising gangster-flick in its own right.

The Marker is a good thriller with good performances. It's no masterwork, but it is a well-crafted film with several striking moments of both tough, brutal action, and quiet, emotional sincerity. As a lo-fi slice of British indie film-making it's unlikely you'll be seeing The Marker in a multiplex any time soon, but I recommend you seek it out on DVD or an online streaming service.

A gangster film with a heart and a brain, it makes a nice change from the usual guns 'n geezers fare we've come to expect from the British film industry, and Edgar ought be congratulated for making something which dares to be different, which dares to have soul.

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