A young Nigerian boy, 'farmed out' by his parents to a white British family in the hope of a better future, instead becomes the feared leader of a white skinhead gang.
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is a British actor who has had roles in some pretty notable television shows and movies, such as The Bourne Identity, Thor: The Dark World, Suicide Squad, Lost, and Game of Thrones. In his adulthood, he has been an actor, fashion model, writer, director, and producer, where the real dramatic portion of his life emanates from, however, is his childhood; Farming is that story.
Farming is written by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and marks his directorial debut, on a film based on his own upbringing. Farming in itself is a term that I was unaware of and refers to African parents sending their children to live with British foster parents in the hopes that they will achieve better education and subsequent lives. Some foster parents having over ten children per household and doing it solely for the extra income from the biological parents and government financial aid.
When one is directing and writing a film about themselves, there is an expected level of censoring and cherrypicking that is expected to go on. This is not the case for Farming, because by-and-large, this is not a heart-warming story. There are similarities with the recent Joker release with our protagonist in a situation that they are unable to acclimatise to and are met with nothing but emotional manipulation, hostility, and violence from the majority of their interactions in life, as the slowly twist into something darker. While Akinnuoye-Agbaje has no issues with showing the good and bad aspects of his childhood, he isn't able to provide any commentary to his own actions beyond the (literally) skin-deep hatred of his own race and culture.
Akinnuoye-Agbaje has a peculiar perspective on his antagonists as well, portraying them as a gang of patriotic rascals that live by a code. Inconsistent in how they are shown on screen, they switch between being violent racists with psychopathic tendencies, and the aforementioned playful scamps that feel more like punks waiting for a Sex Pistols concert. At times creating a debaucherous atmosphere that would fit in well alongside Guy Ritchie's Snatch.
There is a strong story in this premise, but Akinnuoye-Agbaje is indecisive in what the main objective of the film is to be. There is a clear narrative direction that builds and snowballs in the first three acts, accelerating until it reaches a breaking point. The content of the film is incredibly emotionally heavy, however, which makes Farming an unsettling film to watch. There are minimal redeeming qualities on display, effectively leaving the audience viewing the mental breakdown of a child for 95 minutes before the epilogue is tacked onto the end, without providing any sense of payoff or closure.
It is uncomfortable watching someone being bullied to the point that they hate and fear their own skin colour; to want nothing more than to wash away or cover up the black. It brings up so many questions, about how one would overcome this self-directed racism, but our protagonist is for-the-most-part, mute. Even with the actual person that this happened to, directing and writing the film, Akinnuoye-Agbaje is unwilling to go deeper into that traumatic part of his childhood, instead, focusing more on the visual aspect of it.
And there is some exceptionally powerful imagery in this film. The content is dark and heavy, and it doesn't hold back in its depictions of violence and events leading to the continual fracturing of an identity. The acting is well done, with an enthralling performance by Damson Idris as our protagonist. Kate Beckinsale is also in the cast, but she adds nothing, her frumpy hair and clothing unable to make her fit in with the aesthetics of the film.
It is peculiar to connect more with the antagonists in a film, but they received so much more development, that you cannot help but empathise with them. This is a story that focuses more on the skinhead group, the Tilbury Skins, than the consequences of 'farming'. Still, it's a compelling story with good energy and pacing that keeps you glued to the screen. While the message has been lost in the production of the film, Farming still ends up an entertaining viewing.
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