Adaptation Drama

'The Riot Club' Film Review

March 27, 2015Ben MK

A Bad Education...


Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. If anything, that seems to be what director Lone Scherfig wants audiences to take away from The Riot Club, a film that spins a cautionary tale about the dangers of indulging in excess, telling the story of an elite group of spoiled-rotten Oxford University students who let their debaucherous ways get the better of them.

Adapted from British playwright Laura Wade's 2010 play "Posh," the film centers on the bitter rivalry between two Oxford newcomers, Alistair (Sam Clafin) and Miles (Max Irons). It begins when Miles beats out Alistair for the affections of fellow freshman Lauren (Holliday Grainger); and it only grows once they're both tapped to join the carefully-selected ranks of the film's titular boys club, whose mission it is to engage in excess, debauchery and to live life to its fullest.

The tension between Alistair and Miles comes to a head in the story's second half, when they, along with the rest of the club's roster — Harry (Douglas Booth), Hugo (Sam Reid), Dimitri (Ben Schnetzer), Guy (Matthew Beard), Toby (Olly Alexander), George (Jack Farthing), Ed (Josh O'Connor) and club president James (Freddie Fox) — sit down to a celebratory dinner at a countryside pub called The Bull's Head.

For it's here, after a mostly humorous first act — focusing largely on the ridiculousness of the demeaning acts Alistair and Miles must subject themselves to in order to gain entry into the club — that the film takes a decidedly darker turn, when — gorged on food, alcohol and cocaine — one of them is driven to commit a heinous act for which they all might have to suffer the consequences.

Much like her 2009 film, An Education, Scherfig infuses the narrative with talk of Britain's political system and discussions about class warfare. Although, ultimately, none of this ambition ever really leads anywhere. The same goes for the film's condemnation of its characters' bad behavior, which reaches a fever pitch during the chaos of the aforementioned dinner scene, only to be essentially unraveled by an all-too-neat (and unrealistic) conclusion, swiftly and effectively robbing the film of its punch line.

Also featuring minor performances from Tom Hollander, Jessica Brown Findlay and Natalie Dormer, the movie is certainly well-acted. In the end, though, what we're left with is a piece of filmmaking that's mostly gloss, emphasizing style over substance. Granted, it succeeds at getting across its core message, that bad people do bad things and that power corrupts. But when it comes to telling audiences something they don't already know, The Riot Club isn't all that educational.  Ben Mk

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