This film was a bit of a surprise for me. I had thought it wouldn't be as good as it turned out, wouldn't pack the punch that it did both in story and performances, but it did. The film delivered a lot in its small locations and stands up as a really good British film.
Sugarhouse is the story of a middle-class suited worker called Tom who is seeking to buy something from a crack-addicted homeless man D. However the item that Tom is looking to buy has been stolen from the local drug lord called the Hood, or Hoodwink, an Irish hard man who is played by Andy Serkis, and he's just discovered that it's missing.
The film feels like a stage play, and that's no bad thing. The locations are few and it concentrates on the abandoned warehouse that D calls home, itself quite a large location offering a number of different backdrops.
It's in this convincingly created warehouse that Tom and D spend most of their time, and are also joined by the violent and revenge filled Hoodwink.
With the locations being limited the story concentrates on the characters, their development and the script, and what we get is a rich story with three powerful and well created leads.
Steven Mackintosh plays Tom, the middle-class London City worker who has come looking to buy. He gives a great performance which is shown best during the scene where he breaks down in front of D and reveals the reason that he really wants to buy the item from D. Here I was totally taken in by his character and I really did feel empathy with him, realising his anguish.
Andy Serkis was menacing as Hoodwink and did well with that thick Irish accent, he certainly is a great character actor, and when he flips from being psychotic to meek in front of a gun, he does so with ease.
His character is created menacingly by the early showing of his tattoos, his morning ritual involving holding his head in a sink full of iced water, and his repeated attempts at calming his anger.
This is a nice moment of comedy, of which there are a few in the film and which are used to break the tension in order to rebuild it in the following scenes. The running joke with the chanting worked well and was stopped just at the right point, and the three characters who Hoodwink enlists to find his stolen item are never pushed too far over the edge, although they are often close to being Ali G type characters.
One of the big surprises of the film was the performance from Ashley Waters, who I also got to see in WAZ. Here he played the crack-addicted character well giving a believable and pretty real performance.
There are a few moments where it feels like he overplays the character a little, but these are few and far between and don't really detract from his overall performance, which like Mackintosh is best during his own personal breakdown.
The two things that really stand out in this film are the script and the casting. The choice of cast here is excellent and the three leads create believable and emotive characters, helped along by a strong and passionate script from Dominic Leyton.
Gary Love, whose directing I've never seen before, does a great job and you find that you're wholly focused on the characters and not any overly fancy filming style. Yet the style captures a small London estate well and heightens tension between characters well.
Sugarhouse is a strong storytelling and character based film and we should be proud it's come from Britain and such great British talent both behind and in front of the camera.