Based on the novel by Viktor Headley, this adaptation has Idris Elba behind the camera for the first time. Kicking off in Jamaica in the seventies, D (Ameen), after witnessing his brother’s shooting, moves up the gangster ranks thanks to dealer/record prouder King Fox’s (Shepherd) guidance. By 1983, he’s a trusted soldier and is sent to London to deliver cocaine to Rico (Graham) but instead keeps it for himself, hoping to use the stash to fund his MC ambition and get back with former girlfriend Yvonne (Jackson) with whom he has a daughter…
When it works Yardie evokes memories of 'City of God', with its pretty colours and vivid setting. The elongated first act takes place in the ghetto streets of an unnamed Jamaican town where D, short for Dennis, watches as his brother Jerry (Everaldo Creary) attempts to increase the peace between two rival gangs whose violence has decimated the neighbourhood. Jerry’s use of music – the soundtrack is a wonderful mixture of reggae, dub, soul and gospel with Elba resisting the temptation to go for the obvious hits - to bring them together invokes a passion for toasting in D.
When it doesn’t work, it veers into Nick Love territory, with a reliance on voiceover, flash and tough East End gangsters. Elba can’t quite link the subplots together with D’s ambition to MC, his desire to keep his family safe, avenging his brother, and his attempts to make a stake in the gangster world all operating independently of each other. Elba struggles to build a sequence: in keeping scenes short – sometimes real short – various developments don’t get a chance to build up some tension and so its big emotional moments either don’t land or aren’t earned. When King Fox turns up in London unexpectedly to learn of the whereabouts of his cash, it should really get the gears working. But it doesn’t.
The performances catch the eye with Ameen able to do the steely, tough thing and the sensitive, kind thing when called upon. He’s backed up by newcomer Shantol Jackson, who boasts real presence even in the scenes that don’t belong to her. Stephen Graham, playing a white British gangster who wishes he was from Trenchtown, is clever in allowing his English accent at times break into his forced Jamaican patois, but he oddly can’t bring the menace that made him so terrifying in 'This Is England', 'Hyena' or 'Public Enemies to Rico'.
'Yardie' is still different from other British gangster flicks and there’s enough here to suggest Elba will make better films but this is slightly disappointing.