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Idris Elba directed his first movie, about Jamaican gangsters. It’s actually pretty good.

Aml Ameen plays a Jamaican drug courier in London in “Yardie,” the directorial debut of actor Idris Elba. (Alex Bailey/Rialto Pictures/Studiocanal)

“Yardie” opens in 1973, during a running gun battle between rival gangs in the streets of Kingston, Jamaica. In the crossfire, a little girl is killed, leading to an attempt at reconciliation that causes further collateral damage, spawning an escalating cycle of revenge and criminality that — despite the efforts of a young man to walk the righteous path — finally resolves itself in a kind of bloody, if imperfect redemption.

It’s easy to see the appeal of the source material: a 1992 pulp bestseller by Jamaican-born British author Victor Headley about a Jamaican drug courier who gets caught up in a spiral of retaliation that, in its early pages, evokes memories of the classic 1972 cult film “The Harder They Come.” There’s plenty of meat in this story for Idris Elba, the actor making his directorial debut here, to sink his teeth into, especially when the action of “Yardie” shifts, in 1983, from Jamaica to the London of Elba’s youth.

But there’s also not a whole lot to this story beyond the story.

It’s all kiss-kiss, bang-bang and backstabbing, with a twist that, while effective, leads to a denouement of questionable — and not entirely satisfying — moral reckoning. In some ways, “Yardie” plays out like a film noir, but with a strangely sweet ending, and without that genre’s deliciously bitter aftertaste.

That said, “Yardie” spins out an interesting enough yarn.

Centering on a character known as D, for Dennis, the film picks up the thread in the Trenchtown neighborhood , where the boy (played by Antwayne Eccleston) has been shaped by the murder of his older brother (Everaldo Creary), a reggae DJ who had been attempting to defuse the gang wars of their city through the healing power of music. “Yardie” — whose title, in Britain, is slang for a Jamaican-born hood — then jumps several years later, when an older D (Aml Ameen) has become a father with his childhood sweetheart, Yvonne. Unfortunately, D’s ties to the Jamaican gang leader who took the boy in after his brother’s death force a separation: To escape the violence, Yvonne (Shantol Jackson) moves to London with their daughter, leaving D behind.

Aml Ameen in “Yardie.” (Alex Bailey/Rialto Pictures/Studiocanal)
But when D’s mentor (Sheldon Shepherd) sends him to London to deliver a kilo of cocaine, the young man decides to settle there, moving in with Yvonne and taking up the drug trade for himself. Things get complicated when D runs into the man he holds responsible for his brother’s murder. D is, like so many other movie antiheroes, consumed by thoughts of retaliation.

In a broad sense, little of this story is especially new, and not just because of “The Harder They Come,” whose patterns of transgression and hubris echo here. “Yardie” also follows in the footsteps of numerous other crimes dramas, where the theme of corrupted innocence is tried and true.

What sets Elba’s movie apart is the distinctive world he creates, in the rhythm of the music, in the raw, gritty poetry of the language, and in the powerful mythology it mines. It’s a world in which D is haunted, quite literally, by his brother’s ghost, or “duppy,” in Jamaican slang. In that sense, “Yardie” also resembles Shakespeare’s tragedy of “Hamlet.” The only difference is that here, the restless apparition who haunts the young protagonist is one who urges forgiveness and healing, not more bloodshed.

Unrated. At Landmark’s West End Cinema and the AFI Silver. Contains violence, obscenity, drugs and sex. In heavily accented English and Jamaican Patois with subtitles. 101 minutes.


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5 comments to this article

  1. ramjam

    on March 14, 2019 at 9:38 am - Reply

    Sender thats nothing new! the movie “mighty quinn” weren’t jamaicans either! and if my memory serves me correctly, no jamaican had a major role in “cool runnings” neither the umteen james bond movies that were plotted,themed, filmed and screened in and around Jamaica ☺

    • Official Latty

      on March 15, 2019 at 2:47 am - Reply

      Yes ramjam not one Jamaican play inna cool runnings… Not even quater a jamaican, not even a jamaican parent… Look pan when Stella get har groove back an dem seh filming gwan a yard dem dus use we place not even one Jamaican was a extra inna none a di yard scene.

  2. PhantomPhoenix

    on March 14, 2019 at 10:26 am - Reply


    Being that it’s Idris…I’m down for this movie. Our own take their monies and buy/build large castles (lol wid de turret pon de house dem now a days) cars and hoes (male and female ones). Good bless the few: Blue Mountain theatre, Marcia Brown Productions, Walters Production and others.

    Perry Henzell, Dickie Jobson, Letts &Elgood, Bafaloukos,Knight & Rhone, Bradford and Blackwell arw the few to produce anything worthy.

  3. JermanLuga

    on March 14, 2019 at 10:50 am - Reply

    How can a film/book about being a drug courier lead to an headline about jamaica being sold by non jamaicans? Even though it was a question, I question what is implied that jamaica/cans are about drug running as you say.
    This is bullshit and disappointing SMFH. INSHALLAH.

  4. Anonymous

    on March 15, 2019 at 8:27 am - Reply

    Send your queries to Jampro, they are the ones who give permits and such for these things to take place. They are the ones who can say well you must use Jamaican talent in their films. UPT wins again.Even though Jamaicans didn’t have active on screen roles, I am almost positive we did plenty behind the scenes jobs which actually pay more than being an extra. Everything that is filmed in Jamaica Jamaican talent have been involved but mostly behind the scenes. Jampro cannot tell the people who must star them tings…If you have culinary skills, makeup artistry skills etc submit to Jampro and see if you can get in on it instead of complaining.

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