Hard Tide (2016)

First published by RealCrime Magazine

“Based on real events”, states text at the beginning of Robert Osman and Nathanael Wiseman’s feature debut Hard Tide.

This requires some unpacking. After Wiseman starred in Osman’s Met Film School graduation short My Hero (2014), the two decided to collaborate on an expanded version of this (entirely invented) story about a young smalltown drug dealer who finds himself looking after a little girl over 24 tumultuous hours in his life. As they were developing the script, they chanced upon a similar real-life story from France, and smuggled parts of it into the fictions of what would become High Tide – in much the same way that a bagful of drugs is illicitly imported to the Thanet coastline in the film’s opening scene.

About to start yet another prison stint, respected local crimelord Gaz (Ralph Brown) passes on his drug-dealing operation to son Jake (Wiseman). Yet while Jake’s best friend Alfie (Oliver Stark) may harbour grand ambitions, Jake himself knows all too well (not least because Gaz keeps telling him) that the only two ways out of the game are “a ditch or the nick”, and so wants to lay low and weigh his alternatives. “Find yourself a nice girl,” Gaz advises him – although Gaz probably did not have in mind Jade (Alexandra Newick), the cocky nine-year-old whom Jake informally adopts later that day after her alcoholic father is accidentally killed.

In a beachside demi-monde where fathers – Jake’s, Jade’s – are negligent and often absent (Jake spent most of his childhood in various care homes), Jake’s decision to look after Jade represents an attempt to break the cycle, as does the relationship that he is forming with hard-working, law-abiding Kim (Kat Gellin). “They had to protect the little guys,” is how Jake describes the Fellowship of heroes in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy (whose plot he hilariously paraphrases as a bedtime story for Jade) – and it is an ethical imperative that he has miraculously assimilated himself, despite the very different models of conduct instilled by his immediate circumstances. Spending most of the film dressed as her own heroine Supergirl, Jade too longs to rise above her environs.

That tension – between Margate’s sink estate grit and flights of fancy, between naturalist crime story and sweet-natured morality fable, between “real events” and filmmakers’ fiction – is what gives Hard Tide its energy, but also, at times, makes it frustratingly uneven. Jake’s chief antagonist is Simon Flowers (Mem Ferda), a psychopathic dealer looking to move in on Gaz’s turf – yet Simon’s larger-than-life monstrousness, combined with a deep sentimental streak in the narrative, ultimately strips Jake’s journey to redemption of its hard-edged credibility.

© Anton Bitel