I was originally going to write a review for Amazing Spider-Man 2, which I saw at the premiere and waited 3 hours beforehand to get the best seat, but that film doesn't deserve your attention. The Selfish Giant does. Set in a bleak landscape of modern England, The Selfish Giant tells the story of two 13 year old delinquent boys, Arbor and Swifty, who are getting into the business of collecting scrap for a semi-legal scrapyard. This is done out of desperation for money for their families and because they have countless amounts of time on their hands from recently being kicked out of school.
As always, let's talk about the positives. The chemistry between the two boys, Arbor and Swifty, played by Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas, is phenomenal. Considering that this was both their first film, this is more than astounding. In fanboy terms, their friendship chemistry, in my mind, is on the level of “Joshifer” (Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson). A real driving force behind the film is the two boy's friendship. For it to be so authentic and on the level of believability it is, truly makes the film. Though, it is one thing to have chemistry, it is another to have great acting chops. Both of them hold their own incredibly well, and bring hope to up and coming actors.
I'm not going to pretend I'm an expert at cinematography. What I can say is this, the camera angles are creative and the lighting and tone of this film are set up from beginning to end. The dark and dreary feeling is left with you long after the film is over. This is a sign of great film making and I am not going to overlook it.
While the friendship in the film makes it special, what is truly important about this film is the intimate look it gives into the overlooked side of the world we live in. Swifty and, particularly, Arbor are the forgotten rejects of society. Arbor has emotional issues and would probably be labeled ADHD in the American schooling system. He is mischievous, foul mouthed, with a lack of consideration for others. Though in his heart, he is well meaning and loves his friends and family. Many wouldn't see this if they didn't give him a chance. Swifty is the sweeter of the two. He wants to help his family as well, has soft spot for horses, and is sort of a pushover. He'll do just about anything Arbor wants him to do, and is the victim of school bullying gone unnoticed.
The next two highlighted paragraphs will be SPOILER territory for those who haven't seen it to talk about the ending.
What makes and breaks this film is the ending. If you would have told me that I would have cried at the end of this film 15 minutes in, I might not have believed you, but the film did such an amazing job at getting me invested in the characters that I couldn't hold back. While the death is incredibly sad and heartbreaking, it is nevertheless important. It is essential for the character arc of Arbor, and brought the wrong doings to justice.
Where the movie slightly falters is in only subtly hinting at redemption and Arbor finding his humanity. I would like to say that I can appreciate subtlety, but I believe more is needed when you've been dragged through the mud for an hour and a half. Only one scene of showing Arbor tenderly caring for Swifty's old horse simply is not enough. It undercuts the importance of hope which we need in our everyday life. Without it, we are left with the sense that this type of pain and suffering will only continue. This breaks my heart. One could argue that this is what the film is aiming for, though I would like to think it aiming for something deeper and more profound.
When it comes down to it, The Selfish Giant is a superb film. It doesn't hold back in its honesty of its victims, the world they live in, and is willing to be bleak where others aren't. The two lead performances are outstanding and help make this film the small treasure that it is.
My personal preference: 4/5
How well it was made: 4.75/5