By William Wolf


A film steeped in the debauchery of a group of rich privileged students at Oxford effectively is critical of upper class behavior. Whatever its intentions may be at social criticism, it leaves a bitter aftertaste. Showcased at the 2014 Toronto international Film Festival, “The Riot Club” is an ugly film about ugly deeds, well-acted to be sure, but extremely unpleasant to watch, as I guess it should be.

Ten students at Oxford constitute a secret club dedicating to keeping up the traditions of their British ancestors in celebrating positions of wealth and position. They have great prospects for the future, given their family connections. What happens when they take over a local pub and restaurant to party, drink themselves silly and have fun constitutes the bulk of the film, and the destruction of the pub and the vicious attack on its owner is disgusting. Given all the liquor downed, it is a wonder any of them could remain conscious enough to wreak the damage they do.

Will anybody be held responsible for the carnage? Connections conspire against sufficient retribution. The drama includes a special portrait of one student, Miles (Max Irons), who has a streak of decency in him, but is swept along by his peers. He has a girlfriend of modest means, and she recoils as what happens when Miles is passive in the face of his cohorts wanting to attack her. Such behavior is not easy to repair.

The issue that the film focuses on concerns the extent to which Miles will compromise morality for the future that could open up to him if he plays ball with the powers that be. “The Riot Club” is steeped in cynicism. While screenwriter Laura Wade and director Lone Scherfig would seem to intend social comment, the result remains unpleasant to sit through. Reviewed October 5, 2014.


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