After the critical success of TwentyFourSeven, Brit indie hero Shane Meadows planned to turn his writing and directing skills to something different, something more distanced from his "council estate" films. But, following conversations with his dying grandfather about his own childhood relationship with Romeo Brass co-writer Paul Fraser (who he once shot in the stomach with an air rifle), Meadows decided to keep his second feature close to home, making it his most personal movie yet.
The result is a subtle, touching and - at times unnerving account of a believably imperfect friendship and the impact an outsider has upon it. In fact, for most of the narrative, Romeo and Knocks aren't even friends, with interloper Morell driving a wedge between them. While Knocks is bedridden, recovering from an operation on his back (to his credit, Meadows never makes an issue of it), Romeo happily abandons his old playmate, spending more time with Morell and helping him find his way into Ladine's heart - or, at least, her knickers.
But while both Andrew Shim and Ben Marshall are excellent as the boys, it's adult newcomer Paddy Considine who delivers the most remarkable performance. The role requires him to carefully balance the comical and the sinister, simultaneously eliciting sympathy for his obviously pathetic position in society, laughter at his clownish appearance and manner, and disgust at his treatment of the two kids. Morell represents a random factor and you can never feel entirely comfortable when he's on screen, as Meadows uses Considine's twitchy turn to match much of the humour with a strong sense of anxiety.
Aside from an unnecessarily intrusive soundtrack (lots of loud, jangly guitars), there's little you can fault with this confident British drama. Not a single actor fails to convince, and Meadows' regulars James Higgins and Frank Harper are welcome faces. Bob Hoskins' appearance, however, is so blink-and-you'll-miss-it that all you'll remember is the Brummie accent he's retained from Felicia's Journey. Must have finally raised his fee...