SPOILER: Alistair and Miles, both with aristocratic connections, start their first year at Oxford University though they are very different, Miles is down to earth and happy to have a girlfriend, Lauren, from a lower background whilst Alistair is a snob with aspirations to follow his uncle, a Tory MP. The common bond is that both become members of the Riot Club, a long established elite drinking club priding itself on hedonism and the belief that money can buy anything. Having been barred from most establishments in Oxford they have their annual dinner at the function room in a country pub, where their rowdy behavior angers other patrons though they reimburse Chris, the landlord. They hire a prostitute but she refuses to perform group sex, then one of them rings Lauren, whom they importune to Max's horror. Getting progressively more drunk and ingesting drugs they start to trash the room and, when Chris comes to complain, Alistair savagely assaults him, landing him in hospital. Though ... Written by
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A genuinely uncomfortable, shocking film about yobbos in waistcoats that met and surpassed my expectations
After an amusing introductory scene that informs you of the club's centuries old origin, the film turns to contemporary Oxford and presents us with the latest generation of students and Riot Club members. It follows first-year students Miles Richards (Max Irons) and Alistair Ryle (Sam Claflin), both are of 'good stock' but the former is normal and down-to-earth and the latter is a malicious, fascistic sociopath.
During the fresher's activities, Miles quickly befriends the middle- class Lauren (Holliday Grainger), a friendly girl from Northern England; the romantic pair have a sweet naturalism as they playfully talk about and erode their differing heritages. The scowling, aloof Alistair however proves to be not much of a conversationalist.
Both are soon inaugurated into the Riot Club, whose other members include Harry Villiers (Douglas Booth), the pretty boy who struck me as the de-facto leader of the club; Hugo Fraser-Tyrwhitt (Sam Reid), a closet homosexual with an attraction to Miles; Dimitri Mitropolous (Ben Schnetzer), a horribly rich Greek student, and James Leighton- Masters (Freddie Fox), the smug little squirt who's somehow the president of the club. Some have said that it is littered with caricatures, however the film isn't about ordinary Oxford students or ordinary privilege, it is about an elite circle of extreme wealth and aristocracy.
After Miles and Alistair make up the Riot Club's ten members, the group soon have their risibly pompous suits tailored and set off for a night's debauchery to The Old Bull, one of the few establishments they haven't been banned from. By the time this happens, I thought I had the measure of the pretentious characters and the film's narrative and tone, however as the 'dinner' progresses, both the characters and the course of events become veritably loathsome.
As most will know, The Riot Club is inspired by the Bullingdon Club, an Oxford University dining society infamous for its destructive hedonism that boasts alumni such as David Cameron, Boris Johnson and George Osborne. The film's main target of attack isn't the purported anti-social behaviour of such people, the obnoxious decadence we witness is not endemic to the highly disagreeable 'Riot Club', what it attacks is rather the characters' raging, blue-blooded superiority complexes that causes it. Some may disagree with its politics, they may consider it a gross exaggeration; it is indeed vehement in its depiction of class wars, however I think it is undeniably a very well executed piece of filmmaking.
The film is adapted from the stage play Posh by Laura Wade, and the middle section of the narrative, which is one long scene, certainly feels like the work of a playwright. Like Tracy Letts' Killer Joe (2011) and Bug (2006), it is another example of how punchy stage material often makes an excellent transfer to the cinema.
Much like Letts' work, The Riot Club contains a maelstrom within a cramped four walls; the scene goes from embarrassing to plain excruciating as the decuplet, fuelled by alcohol, drugs and each other's presence, become increasingly hateful and immoral, the vile crescendo eventually reaching a climax that's genuinely shocking. It is all witnessed by the unassuming pub landlord. He is initially honoured to host the boys, the sight of him sycophantically at the beck and call of people half his age who look at him the way they would dog mess on their shoe is pathetic in the true meaning of the word.
The worst offender is Alistair, Sam Claflin is excellent when delivering his well-written diatribes with drunken, acerbic hatred. Alistair's genocidal contempt for the working classes and those bereft of prestige bore similarities to Adolf Hitler's loathing of Jews; he gets so angry that he's reduced to saying 'I'm sick to f*cking death of poor people!' Alistair is the most odious example of unearned privilege and arrogant sense of entitlement, he rants about the successes and innovations of the ruling classes and the proletariat's supposed jealousy as if he's had a part in it, after all, what exactly has he achieved apart from winning the genetic lottery? Claflin proves himself as an accomplished villain actor, he gives his character a sociopathic quality; when there aren't flashes of his vulgar jealousy, resentment and massive hubris, Alistair has an unnerving emotional vacuity.
The Riot Club is not simply 107 minutes of pretty boys holding champagne flutes, it is a sharply made thriller that is perhaps politically divisive but rivetingly executed.
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