Review: ‘Trespass Against Us,’ Starring Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson, and Georgie Smith

Michael Fassbender is really quite good at playing slightly batshit—perfectly cast in the underrated-as-hell, utterly unforgettable 2015 version of Macbeth—and he adds another strong performance as a desperate guy with a little too much to lose in Trespass Against Us. Opposite Brendan Gleeson as his domineering, dangerously reckless father, Fassbender spouts off a Brad Pitt-in-Snatch-like accent and showcases every ounce of charisma he has as a getaway driver just barely on this side of crazy. The movie isn’t that great, but Fassbender is fantastic in it. It’s worth checking out on VOD for Fassbender’s wolfish grin alone.

Directed by Adam Smith, who cut his teeth working on music videos for the Chemical Brothers, Trespass Against Us focuses on the family dynamics of the Cutler clan, a group of outlaws living in a corner of Britain’s beautifully green, mostly sparse countryside, surrounded by trash and burnt-out cars, using ATVs to get around. It’s unclear exactly what family patriarch Colby (Gleeson) is protesting against, but he has no love for the British government, complains about the public school system, and rubs practically everyone the wrong way. He has a hold over his 20 or so followers, though, and every day they get together around a bonfire to hear Colby tell the same old stories over and over again, and every so often he gives them a stupid prank to pull to show that the government can’t contain him.

Most of the time, the pranks are dumb—like painting a car yellow and driving around causing mayhem for regular citizens who aren’t constantly talking shit about the Queen of England, one of Colby’s favorite pastimes—but Colby has pulled enough dumb stuff over the years that the local police are itching to arrest him for something. And so they set their sights on Colby’s son, Chad (Fassbender), who isn’t that keen on carrying on the family’s legacy in this criminal way. Instead, he wants better for his wife Kelly (Lyndsey Marshal), his daughter Mini (Kacie Anderson), and his son Tyson (Georgie Smith), a boy about to be a teenager whose grandfather thinks he’s ready to be a man.

But Tyson is, truly, a child. Chad and his wife want the boy in school, but he’s often absent because Colby interferes, drawing him out to coddle him and spoil him and lecture him, trying to turn him into the version of Chad that Colby wants. It’s because of Colby’s meddling that Chad never received a proper education—and, in an actually heartbreaking character reveal, doesn’t know how to read—and it’s because of the whole Cutler clan in general that Kelly’s family disowned her. So Chad and Kelly are on their own, living in a run-down trailer on the outskirts of nowhere, barely scraping together a living, while Chad struggles to stand up to Colby. And they can’t do anything—can’t move, can’t rent a new place, can’t get the kids settled in a good school, can’t get real jobs—until Chad stands up to his father, which could be their death sentence.

So much of the tension between Chad and Colby is because Fassbender and Gleeson are truly electrifying individually and together; their power struggles—especially when Chad tells Colby that he’s “trying to look after my family,” and Colby counters with “You’re forgetting who you are, boy”—always dance right on the edge of deterioration. You can understand how a man like Colby would be an idol to a child and a weight on an adult; it’s a credit to Gleeson that he can still seem charming even as he’s spouting serious crap about how evolution isn’t real and how the world is flat. He’s an aggressive bully whose “plain talk” reels in people who don’t know any better. Hmm, sound familiar?

But the stellar performances of Gleeson and Fassbender (a standout scene for the latter comes late in the film, when he tries to buy a puppy for Tyson and comes face-to-face with the negative reputation his family carries) can’t counter the film’s uneven narrative, which particularly drags toward the end. There’s a character change that turns one figure, who had loomed terrifyingly large before, into someone more misunderstood than malignant, and that feels like a cheap conclusion for the film, like a sentimental choice when the movie didn’t need one.

It’s that flawed ending that casts a shadow over the rest of Trespass Against Us, which veers into Guy Ritchie territory but mostly keeps its integrity until the last half-hour or so. Nevertheless, there’s still enough memorable, engrossing stuff here—those electric performances (no one can make an insult like “You’re a dumb fuck, you are” sound as weirdly sexy as Fassbender can); a tense, visceral score from the Chemical Brothers; well-directed chase sequences—to make Trespass Against Us worth a watch, even if it flubs the finale.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Guttenbergs

Trespass Against Us is available on VOD