10 October 2014 | TheSquiss
Odious toffs doing horrible things. Nice club. Not the Oxford of Inspector Morse!
For the vast majority of us, The Riot Club is so far removed from our own experience as to be virtually irrelevant. The same is probably true with Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street, but while I spent the first half of that triumph wishing I could have Jordan Belfort's experiences and the second half thanking some unknown deity I haven't, there was something about him I couldn't help liking. In The Riot Cub, however, we are presented with an odious bunch of toffs with few, if any, redeeming features.
Alistair (Sam Claflin) and Miles (Max Irons), both aristocratic and with either latent or pronounced class prejudices, begin their first term at Oxford University. Their social standing makes them attractive prospects for the infamous Riot Club. With a maximum membership of ten at any time, mystery surrounds the exclusive, secret society that has a closer bond than the Masons and a legendary penchant for excess, debauchery and a privileged standing that means the members never suffer the consequences of their hedonism. Banned from Oxford's finer establishments, the Club prepares for their annual dinner and the investiture of their news members.
I'm not sure The Riot Club has anything much to say. Is it a piece of social commentary? If so, we already know there are those who are moneyed, privileged and get away with murder, sometimes literally. If it is to excite us and make us hanker for the greener grass on the other side of the fence, it fails; why would we want that? If director Lone Scherfig (One Day, An Education) is aiming to show us how fortunate we are not to be part of that world, then surely there are subtler ways of doing so.
The Riot Club isn't a bad film; it is just a largely unpleasant one. This is a voyeuristic look through a grimy window at a display of wanton abandon and viciousness at the expense of absolutely everyone who isn't, or wasn't, part of The Riot Club. While most naughty boys think they can get away with scrumping apples, bunking off school and firing catapults at innocent, harmless animals, these are loathsome, obnoxious boys who grew up on a campaign of hatred and swapped their misdemeanours for felonies like vandalism, violence, and rape.
Nice club! Perhaps for those who have been through that educational experience and are part of that tiny segment of society of privileged society it means something. Certainly the man behind me laughed periodically in apparent understanding. He was the only one in our small audience. Me? I felt uncomfortable through most of it, particularly with the pseudo morality of Miles when he apparently tries to do the right thing and rise above it, though his peers do not hold back in reminding him he, too, is there by choice.
The Riot Club is well performed by all, the attention to detail feels meticulous, from the perspective of one on the outside, and, yes, there is a part of me that enjoyed it. It was a fascinating experience that repulsed me frequently and left me feeling rather dirty; a little like the evening I had rotten.com inflicted on me by a long-eschewed former colleague.
I suspect The Riot Club will have a limited audience and most of those who venture out will find something within it to fascinate them. I can't imagine many in my circle of friends wanting a repeat viewing or wishing for a life in the inner circle of society afterwards, though.
Well constructed, fascinating and repulsive, The Riot Club is a classic example of a film that is good, despite the subject matter being thoroughly unpleasant.
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