How do you follow up The Full Monty? The ridiculously popular steel-workers-turned-strippers comedy became one of the most successful British films of all time, and was even appropriated by Tony Blair as a shining example of Cool Britannia. Many of Monty's strengths - engaging characters, rich vein of bittersweet humour and smart reversal of traditional gender roles - stemmed from Simon Beaufoy's script.
Among Giants was written by Beaufoy seven years ago, long before he became involved with The Full Monty. According to him, it's a "different, more serious film than The Full Monty". It's also the script that's closest to his heart, although he didn't get the project off the ground until he agreed to change the ending to make it more commercial (although the amended version is hardly upbeat).
The two movies are certainly similar (working-class men struggling to stay afloat in Sheffield) yet Among Giants hinges on a classic love triangle, in which a female outsider comes between two best friends. It's also effectively a British Western, only these cowboys don't go on cattle drives. Instead they spend long, gruelling days scaling up and down electricity pylons, then spend their evenings around campfires. The best oaters explore the dynamics of male friendship, but Among Giants is hesitant to examine the key relationship between Ray and Steve. Given the 30-year age gap, you want to know far more about why they are such good mates and why Ray's so paternal towards his lodger.
It's not the only shortcoming: the motivations behind Gerry's actions are sketchy, while the support - simple Shovel (James), loan-shark bait Bob (Serkis), guitar-strumming Weasel (Jarvis) and old-timer Frank (Williams) - aren't allowed to develop. Most unsatisfyingly, the flurry of dramatic events in the final reel has limited emotional impact. Visually, Among Giants gains mileage from the dramatic contrast between the towering steel pylons and natural beauty of the Peak District landscapes. However, several shots - most notably when the camera whirls around Ray and Gerry on top of the gasometer, or follows them frolicking naked underneath the cooling tower - are off-puttingly self-conscious, at odds with the otherwise naturalistic style. More effective is the careful framing of the men at work, perched several hundred feet off the ground.
Director Sam Miller (whose TV credits include Cardiac Arrest and This Life) elicits effective performances, particularly from a steely Postlethwaite and an abrasive Griffiths, and there are wonderful moments of dry humour.
But Among Giants has little of The Full Monty's magic, and it's certainly not in the same league as Ken Loach's best work. Perhaps Beaufoy's own forthcoming directorial debut The Darkest Light will prove to be more compelling.
On paper it looks interesting - script by The Full Monty scribe, classy actors, unusual premise - but the love triangle doesn't deliver dramatically, while too many characters feel underwritten. Gritty and only sporadically amusing, it never fully engages.
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