Star Rating:

Play (2013)

Director: Ruben Ostlund

Actors: Anas Abdirahman, Johan Jonason, Kevin Vaz

Release Date: Friday 12th July 2013

Genre(s): Drama

Running time: Denmark minutes

A young black teenager approaches a group of three young white teenagers in a shopping mall and asks them for the time. When one of the white teenagers takes out his phone to check, the black teenager claims that the phone is the exact same one that his brother had stolen on him last week. Calling over four of his older, bigger friends, the black teenagers demand that the white teenagers come with them a little ways out of town, to bring the phone to the brother and confirm with him whether or not it is the same phone. This is the based-on-a-true-story set-up of Play, calling into question some inherent fears and opinions on racism, class warfare, bullying and social guilt.

As the boys journey from one end of the Swedish city to the other, the ever building dread of how this day is going to pan out will tie a knot in your stomach from beginning to end, but unfortunately the movie doesn't quite know how to unravel it. Using long takes and very wide shots, director Ruben Ostlund uses a minimum of edits and almost no close-ups, his camera not remarking upon the actions on screen, forcing the audience to impose their own thoughts on what's happening.

The cast are all mostly first-timers and mostly great in their roles, and Ostlund does stir up some provocative and incendiary questions and scenarios, but the movie seems more interested in dealing with the frustrations of the situation that trying to come to any kind of conclusion. It meanders on every set-up for about 30 seconds too long, which both feeds into the impending sense of fear and the frustrating nature of the story, and some recurring scenes - one involving an Indian flute band, another involving an abandoned cradle on a train - do nothing but drag out the run-time.

A mix of Michael Haneke's dead-eyed social commentary and the oppressive hoodie-horror genre, Play isn't here to entertain. As a look at a very real problem, it works well, but as a look behind why the problem exists, it fails completely.