Idris Elba makes his directorial debut with Yardie, a perfunctory crime drama which has its moments, but ultimately fails to hit the mark. Elba’s screen adaptation of Victor Headley’s seminal 1992 novel (adapted for the screen by Brock Norman Brock and Martin Stellman) is a Jamaican-infused Goodfellas style tale and while it may have some fresh elements, you can’t help but notice that it’s a reheated updated of something you’ve already seen many times before.
Set in the ’70s and ’80s, the story follows D (Aml Ameen), a young Jamaican gangster who is sent to London with a bag of cocaine and told to stay out of trouble by Sheldon Shepherd’s crime boss. He promptly pisses -off the local drug dealer (Stephen Graham), before hooking-up with his old girlfriend and the mother of his daughter (Shantol Jackson). By happy coincidence he also stumbles across the man who killed his brother many years before. Will D ruin his chances of redemption?
Elba’s debut behind the camera ticks a lot of boxes and if you’re looking for a London crime movie, then it’s not a bad effort. However, the film is so over reliant on voice-over (especially in its first third) that it comes across as being over-loaded with exposition. The performances aren’t bad (Ameen impresses in the lead) but the characters are more like generic sketches than fully developed beings.
Music lover (and DJ) Elba infuses Yardie with a lot of pumping Jamaican music and cinematographer John Conroy adds plenty of colour to proceedings (especially the Kingston-set opening) which makes it a cut above the usual dour London crime thrillers. In the end, these are the only new elements to this rather generic tale and while it’s no disaster, it’s far from great. Idris Elba shows some talent as a director, but next time he’d better find a more interesting script to work from.
Yardie comes with some deleted scenes (nothing essential) a few short snippets of interviews – but the best of the bunch is a chat between director Idris Elba and star Aml Ameen.