In 2019 the United Kingdom played host to the debut of a critically lauded film called “Blue Story”. The directorial debut of Andrew Onwubolu, better known as the London rapper Rapman, “Blue Story” made headlines late last year after a fight involving over 100 teenagers broke out during a showing. The incident was a bit ironic seeing as the films main theme is uncovering the tragedy of gang violence in the UK. After releasing in very limited capacity in North America in March we finally got a mass distribution of the film this month through on-demand formats giving American viewers full access to what might just be one of the best and most important films released in 2020 so far. It’s a feature that’s poignant, riveting and heartbreaking at its very core.
“Blue Story” focuses on two friends Timmy and Marco, played by Stephen Odubola and Michael Ward respectively, who grow up together but live in different neighborhoods of London, specifically Peckham and Deptford. Each postcode contains their own gangs, including one involving Marco’s brother. When certain events create a rift between the two friends they are forced onto different sides of the gang conflict eventually coming to blows as their obsession with revenge and hatred of each other slowly destroys their lives in ways they never imagined. The story is complimented by Rapman himself narrating certain parts of the film through rap while also including several real-life members of the Peckham Boys and Ghetto Boys gangs into the cast.
“Blue Story” isn’t an absolutely flawless film, but it’s pretty damn close. Nearly every element comes together to create an engrossing story that not only uncovers the tragic nature of gang violence but the true cost of revenge and hatred. Rapman reportedly based the film off of true events he experienced in his younger years and used the movie to capture gang violence not only visually but emotionally, succeeding brilliantly thanks in no small part to a capable and committed cast. Stephen Odubola and Michael Ward are spectacular as the leads in this film feeling very much like true friends turned rivals with great chemistry that slowly evolves into seemingly genuine animosity. As the two friends drift farther apart we are also given contrasts through their daily activities that help progress the division and show their differing ideals. Timmy is shown to be more grounded and shy and is led by his good-hearted girlfriend Leah played by Karla-Simone Spence. Marco becomes stained by his older brother’s influence and is shown to be more off-putting as he embraces the gang mentality. Seeing these two men take different paths that ultimately tear them apart and lead to unfortunate innocent victims in their squabble is a harsh reminder of how easily gang mentality can claim both lives and peace of mind from once great people.
The first hour of “Blue Story” really sets up this rivalry exploring the high school years of these two friends until they each finally find themselves on opposite sides. One specific event sets in motion their rivalry once and for all before the last half hour, which takes place after a multi-year gap, brings their violence full circle. The result is as close to a modern Shakespearean tragedy as you’ll ever see that shows there are no winners in the gang life. The final act of this film is truly heartbreaking. I found myself shattered by the the result and genuinely did not expect it to close out the way it does but it’s almost beautiful in how it plays with viewers emotions and never takes the easy route to the finish line. Suffice it to say there really isn’t much of a happy ending to this film and that feels all too appropriate as the goal was to be to embrace a certain level of realism in depicting the consequences of a life of endless violence. This whole movie is built to present the destructive nature of a still very real reality in London and across the world. Gang violence has no winners and is often the result of nothing more than an accident of birth or area code. “Blue Story” not only gives us raw insight into this lifestyle but all of the very real tragedies and the loss of innocence that accompanies it.
The one roadblock I had to endure while watching “Blue Story” was the dialogue. Most of the characters speak with UK slang and heavy accents ensuring the setting and culture presented is respected. The complications I had understanding the dialogue was more of a result of my own cultural ignorance than a true problem with the film. I bring it up though because Rapman finds a cool way around this. If you can’t understand the characters or find the story a bit hard to follow Rapman occasionally pops in and literally raps a narration, or more like a recap, of events in the film to catch views up on exactly what has happened between the two leads. The raps avoid colloquialisms and slang to give us more stripped down explanations of the events, but they never feel out of place. It makes “Blue Story” feel like a long form visual album which is fitting because Rapman did, in fact, base this movie on real life experiences which also serves as an inspiration for his raps. It’s also not the first time rap has been used to effectively convey cultural struggles in film as “Blindspotting” also employed the practice on a much smaller scale. I thought it was an inventive and neat way to help viewers keep track of the story and allow the narrative to cross the culture barrier without westernizing the dialogue of the actual characters. It also allows the director to insert himself seamlessly into a film inspired by events he himself has lived which only help make “Blue Story” an even more special cinematic experience.
“Blue Story” is excellent. Rapman’s directorial debut is a raw, purposeful and hard-hitting cinematic journey into the world of London gangs that feels ripped right out of a harsh reality. Great acting and a Shakespearean-inspired narrative help punctuate the horrendous results of gang violence and the thirst for revenge as we watch a beautiful friendship, a brotherhood even, deteriorate with destructive results for both sides. This film pulls no punches as it delves right into the heart of its tragedy accomplishing its goals on nearly every level. It’s the kind of film that will hopefully open eyes and change perspectives not just for those involved in the gang world but for those who have chosen a path of hatred and division even in the smallest aspects of their lives. Important, engrossing and affecting, this is goal oriented filmmaking at its finest without an ounce of pandering or compromise in sight.