Trespass Against Us (2016)

First published by RealCrime Magazine

“That’s why I never sent Chad to school. We’ve got to stand up to these cunts, Tyson, so they don’t trespass against us.”

The speaker is Colby Cutler (Brendan Gleeson), patriarch and godfather to a small community/gang of travellers who rob and ram-raid their way through whichever township is reluctantly hosting them, until the heat gets too much and it is time to move on. Like his adult son Chad (Michael Fassbender), Colby has no formal education, believes (as his father believed) that the world is flat, and compensates for a general lack of intelligence with a driven animal cunning.

Chad has, so far, been following in his father’s illiterate footsteps, but dreams, along with his wife Kelly (Lyndsey Marshall), of something better for their own young son Tyson (George Smith) and daughter Mini (Kacie Anderson): a permanent home (rather than a caravan), proper schooling and a sense of stability.

Adam Smith’s Trespass Against Us opens with a fugitive rabbit, and ends with a dog stuck up a tree. These images of animal flight and stasis are metaphors for the two extremes between which Chad finds himself constantly caught: on the one hand, being on the run, with each mad chase coming hot on the heels of the last; on the other, the impossible dream of settling down, or the more likely scenario (one which has already befallen Chad’s brother) of a lengthy stay in prison. One way or another, the sins of the father must eventually catch up with the son, and much as Colby does not believe in evolution, he is determined to ensure that his own family remain doomed never to evolve with the times.

Pitched somewhere between crime caper, dynastic tragedy, and TV sit-com The Darling Buds of May, Trespass Against Us aligns itself and us with a family forever behaving badly, while subtly revealing that their marginalisation, while to a large extent self-imposed, is also perpetuated by an establishment unprepared to allow people like the Cutlers ever to belong. Chad’s attempts to negotiate these two worlds – his father’s and society’s – drive the film along at a rattling pace, even as Gleeson and Fassbender, at the top of their game (in atypical rôles), bounce off each other with a combination of amiable wit and brooding menace.

Despite his endless orchestration of illegal acts, Colby is a religious man who regards his folk as righteous, Christ-like victims against whom the rest of the world is trespassing. It is something of an inverted view, but then, the screenplay of Alastair Siddons (director of In The Dark Half) uses this underclass to turn social norms pleasingly – and revealingly – upside down.

© Anton Bitel