Turnout (2011)

Set against a troubled relationship that gets even rockier as it progresses, Turnout is an attempt to (1) bring us an oddball, East London film about a drug deal gone wrong and (2) show us that deception in a relationship is a bad thing. And perhaps (3) that people from different sides of the tracks might not be compatible at all, even if they love each other, if only one person is willing to put in the effort. This third point is what makes Turnout occasionally unbearable to watch, as its self-obsessed burnout of a lead character makes dumb decision after dumb decision.

Actually, “burnout” doesn’t even properly describe the lead, George (George Russo), as in order to burn out, one must first has to be something. From what the film tells us, George has never had a proper job, has never done anything other than laze about, do drugs, and hang out with his mates. In contrast, Sophie (Ophelia Lovibond), his girlfriend, works in an office selling stocks, and is nothing like him. Opposites attract, so they say.

They’ve got ¬£2,000 left to pay for their vacation, and they have most of the money saved underneath George’s bed. Or, Sophie has most of the money saved underneath George’s bed. George is broke, having no job, no prospects, and few skills. Sometimes he sells drugs. Presumably he also takes on the occasional odd job, although we never see that happen. One of his friends tells him that there’s a sure thing which needs investment — it’s a drug deal — and while George has no money, there’s a large sum sitting under his bed.

Of course, it doesn’t go well, and now George has to hide the fact that he stole and then lost Sophie’s money, attempt to recover at least most of it through favors and previous debts, and also explain his erratic and neglectful behavior, which is a result of the first two points. What this means for us is that we watch a lot of George talking to people, talking to other people, and drinking and doing drugs, because apparently he can get these things for a nominal amount of money.

We watch him get himself in deeper and deeper water, because as someone who is unemployed and possibly not very well-educated, that’s what he’s prone to do. The film takes place in East London, and attempts to give us a relatively complete picture of what life is like for the lower class in this area. I’m not going to say whether or not it is or isn’t true-to-life, but it’s convincing nonetheless. Although, I must question if people living here really do use the word “bruv” a half-dozen times per conversation. I hope not.

The stakes here are the money that the couple is going to use for the holiday, and very likely their relationship, which starts on shaky ground and only gets worse as the film progresses. As it plays, Sophie begins to question exactly why she sticks with this guy, and that’s the same question we should ask. She’s putting in almost all of the work, and he’s hanging around with his friends, doing drugs, lounging around, and neglecting her in her moments of downtime. Why is she with this loser?

Because of the way this is framed, it’s really hard to root for George as he’s trying to get together the money behind Sophie’s back, because if he does, then the relationship — built on deceit and neglect — might continue. And because Turnout seems to want us to hope that doesn’t continue … exactly why would we emotionally invest in George’s quest? Sure, the film works as a tour of East London life, but as a character piece or even as a semi-coherent drama, it doesn’t even come close to succeeding.

There’s a touch of style added to the film by director Lee Sales (who co-wrote the story with actors George Russo and Francis Pope), and the cinematography is often interesting, but this far from saves the picture. Sometimes, the music blares over the dialogue, which makes it, in at least a couple of scenes, hard to hear the actors. It’s a mistake like that which makes me think Sales was trying a bit too hard, as if he wasn’t quite sure of himself while making the film. considering Sales has no other directorial credits to his name, this is a likely scenario.

A potential saving grace for Turnout is the acting. Both George Russo and Francis Pope reportedly grew up in the area, so they’re basically able to play themselves, just in a fantasy setting. Ophelia Lovibond often looked uncomfortable and out-of-place among the lad’s club feeling of the rest of the film, but that just adds to our understanding that her character really doesn’t belong. These are all good and natural actors, and if they were in a film with a better story, it might be worth watching them all interact.

Turnout isn’t a particularly good film, but if all you want to get out of it is a slice of life in East London, I suppose you’ll get that. You’ll also get an emotionally and intellectually contradictory story, a terrible main character, amateurish direction, a couple of nice shots, and some good acting. It’s a mixed bag, for sure, and while it’s not unwatchable, it’s also not really worth seeking out.

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