The high rise estates of South London don’t often feature in films, but that’s about to change with the new British movie Zebra Crossing. Tower blocks don’t so much feature, as dominate the lives of Justin, Tommy, Billy and Sean, the principal characters in the film.
The lads are balanced between their wild teenage ways and adulthood and the film follows how, or rather if, they make the transition to being grown ups. The uncertainty about whether they grow up is because these guys are a little out of control, well, a lot out of control.
The film starts with Tommy (Greg Wakeham), who’s the maddest of the gang, hanging out with his mate Justin (Lee Turnbull, The Street and Waking the Dead amongst other British TV shows). Sitting on the balcony of a tower block flat, Tommy is using an air rifle to take pot shots at a car down on the ground where two gay men are having sex. When the men get out to find out what’s going on, Tommy manages to hit one in the face, then all four of the gang steam down to the car park and beat the pair up.
These guys are not particularly nice, especially Tommy who is a violent, wild, and very unpredictable presence throughout the movie. Yet somehow, we start to sympathise with them, or at least with Justin. If they are thuggish, it is mostly Tommy who leads his friends on. Besides, they all live in a world empty of hope, positive role models, steady or satisfying work, with no horizons beyond the concrete estates they run amok in.
The film is seen through the eyes of Justin, the only one who appears to have any dreams of seeking a way out. While his mates just want to have a lark, Justin retreats to a church where he can get a bit of peace and quiet and just be himself. Life at home is no good either: Mum’s run off and Dad’s a violent drunk, the only person he can really talk to is his disabled sister who is stuck in her bedroom.
Zebra Crossing is a fast-paced and violent, and believably takes us into the lives of its main characters. The plot zig zags around in all sorts of wild directions, and keeps you guessing until the very end. Perhaps the plot is the film’s least steady point – the lads head from one event to another without too much of a story threading it together. Still, this is at least true to life.
The acting is one of the film’s strengths, especially Greg Wakeham as Tommy who is both attractive and frightening; a character who can pull his mates into all sorts of mad schemes, but you’re never quite sure if he’ll take it too far. Justin, the film’s hero, ably conveys the doubts and despair of a young man who’s finding it hard to see beyond his small world.
Shot in black and white, the film brings to mind La Haine (The Hate), the French film about youngsters living in the Banlieus of Paris, which made the name of Vincent Cassel. La Haine was slicker, but Zebra Crossing is still a respectable effort for director Sam Holland’s debut.