Review: The Pass

The one and only feature to date from director Ben A. Williams and written by John Donnelly, a romantic moment between two young footballers profoundly affects one of them throughout the rest of his life and career. Starring: Russell Tovey, Arinzé Kene, Lisa McGrillis, Nico Mirallegro and Rory J. Saper.

The Pass is an intimate drama, taking place over a few important moments in the life of Jason, a talented footballer who’s plagued by the terrible truth that accepting his sexuality would ultimately ruin his career. The world of football has always been slightly behind the times and though it’s improving, you only have to look at any recent news of rampant racism to know that it still has a long way to go until its entirely open minded and accepting. There aren’t a great deal of films that have tackled prejudice in the world of football and it’s definitely a stretch to think of any that have done it in the way that Williams has, through a harshly honest lens that never once lands on an actual pitch.

There’s only a handful of actors that appear onscreen and only Russell Tovey that appears in every scene, despite an impressive career across TV, film and theatre, he still flies relatively under the radar, an underappreciated British treasure. Tovey’s probably better known for his comedic roles but he’s proved time and time again that he can more than handle himself when it comes to drama, and this film is yet another example because his performance is devastating, blunt and delightfully unbalanced. Brilliant support comes in the form of the, surprisingly, fairly unknown Arinzé Kene, who can be seen in the upcoming How to Build a Girl starring Beanie Feldstein, he’s a very challenging counterpart to Tovey’s Jason and the two have a banter filled chemistry that’s filled with both friendship and romance. The two together are electric to watch onscreen with their emotional outbursts, masculine competitiveness and internal conflict towards their feelings for one another.

Adding to those two fantastic performances are firstly, the utterly underrated Lisa McGrillis, take any two of her roles and you’ll find completely different characters, she’s been tremendous as both the lovably naïve Kelly in Mum and the calculating politician in No Offence and you can next see her in Edgar Wright’s latest offering. Her performance is only one section of the film but she makes a sincere impression and her character has to go through a great deal of emotion in a short amount of time, which she pulls off flawlessly. Secondly, there’s Nico Marallegro, you may recognise him from 2016’s mini-series Rillington Place or Peterloo, he also appears in short film Redisplacement (which will have its digital premiere on 15th May), here he plays an utterly uninhibited bell boy who’s up for anything but gets more than he bargained for. It’s the most emotionally charged scene of the film, and he entirely holds his own with Tovey and Kene, his performance is full of energy and a typical lad spirit.

The direction is extremely intimate, in no moment does the camera ever stray far from its characters, it’s all about the drama, it’s completely focused on its characters and it’s very effective, you can’t take your eyes off any of them. The writing is really well done, the film spans over a decade in less than 90-minutes and doesn’t ever get caught up in extraneous detail, it’s equally as focused as its direction. Perhaps the only real disappointment is not further exploring the, admittedly brief, romantic relationship between Jason and Ade, we see mostly the build up and the consequences, there isn’t a lot of time dedicated to their fateful romantic moment together. It’s a shame as it feels like it plays it a little too safe, for a film where Tovey spends a great deal of time half naked or just in his pants, the actual physical affection is very much of the appropriate for most audiences kind, it could have pushed further and thereby added more of a raw energy to the film. It’s a criticism that often arises for LGBT film, that they generally fade away or cut before a romantic scene and a lot of the time, this feels sadly like a choice because they didn’t want to risk alienating any audience and that really shouldn’t be a consideration at this point but hopefully that wasn’t the case.

Given that The Pass was released almost five years ago, it’s a genuine shame that it hasn’t made more of an impact, it’s an utterly compelling story of an experience that probably occurred to a lot of football players in the last few decades but isn’t often talked about. The emotional impact of being unable to accept your own sexuality is an intense struggle which is exceptionally captured here with a career highlight performance from Russell Tovey. It’s an intensely intimate film with a phenomenal cast and a story that will stick with you.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯

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