Thursday, June 20, 2024

‘Get Duked!’ Looks at Murder, Classism, and the Scottish Highlands

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Get Duked! is a fun film that knows just when to call it quits. It has just enough story to justify its runtime. Though it does lag a smidge, just never so much that I felt it necessary to hold it against the movie. 

Ninian Doff’s debut is a dark satire about class and coming of age. Doff imbues Get Duked! with an irreverent tone right off the bat and sustains it throughout the film. Violent and sharp the script, also written by Doff, is a clever romp that has its eye on the increasingly fractured systems in our society. It’s a British film but it works for Americans as well, a reminder that our problems are not quite as uniquely ours, as we might tend to think.

Dean (Rian Gordon), Duncan (Lewis Gribben), and DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja) are three high school troublemakers who find themselves on the Scottish Highlands as punishment for their recent antics. It seems the boys’ attempts to blow up Duncan’s stool led to them setting the bathroom on fire. This bit of writing is kind of ingenious because it tells right away what type of boys these three are while also foreshadowing that their particular form of chicanery will more than likely come in useful down the line.

So the boys are sent to the Highlands to try and win the Duke of Edinburgh Award. A youth version of those team-building exercises corporations loves so much. The boys are joined by a newcomer Ian (Samuel Bottomley), the class nerd. The substitute teacher Mr. Carlyle (Jonathan Aris) gives the boys a map, a set of instructions, and goes off to meet them at the campsite.

Get Duked! breezes by at a clipped pace. But, refreshingly, Doff takes his time setting up jokes and situations that will pay off down the line. Juneja’s DJ Beatroot is a middle-class aspiring Hip-Hop star who tries to act more street than he is. But that doesn’t stop him from spitting beats and handing out free samples of his album.

Duncan is the class clown. One of those, the wheel is spinning but the hamster’s dead, characters. All heart but a little bit dim, the type that gasps when Ian says “Orienteering” and tells him to not be racist.

Dean is the leader of the group or as much as one can be with these three. A boy who’s resigned to the fact that he will be working alongside his father at the meatpacking plant. But as the movie goes along, we learn he’s not as happy about that resignation as he would have us believe.

Of course, the boys get lost and ask a local farmer where they are. “You’re in the highlands.” Before leaving DJ Beatroot hands the man his album. Any other director would have more than likely left it at that. But when we return to the old man we see him driving his tractor listening to the boy’s album and enjoying it. Even better is his album and the old man comes into play later in the movie.

Doff’s script is full of little moments like that. The movie as a whole, especially the plot of the boys discovering they are being hunted by a man dressed like The Duke (Eddie Izzard), feels familiar. But it’s the little twists and turns that keep it interesting, not to mention Doff so exquisitely ties everything together that it’s hard not to just enjoy the ride itself.

There’s even a subplot involving the local police thinking the Highlands are being invaded by a roving band of urban pedophile terrorists. Sergeant Morag (Kate Dickie) becomes so convinced in that oncoming invasion she instructs her entire precinct, two other officers, to forget about the criminal mastermind known as “The Bread Thief”. 

But even “The Bread Thief” is more than just a one-off joke. There is a serious shortage of bread in the Highlands. Granted it may not be as pressing as a crazy old man hunting four boys across the countryside, but it’s a pressing problem nonetheless. 

The boys eventually get separated, and each of them discovers something that will come in handy later on. Get Duked! isn’t an overly complicated movie but it is executed with perfection. It helps that Doff’s sense of humor ranges from slapstick to wry wordplay while sprinkling a dab of absurdist surrealism throughout the movie. Drug humor is passe and rather stale but Doff leans into it both by having fun visually and brilliantly laying out why a bunch of boys would be so gung ho to swallow a handful of rabbit dung to get high. 

Patrick Meller shot Get Duked! And he switches between long pastoral pans of the rolling hills and the surreal, almost cartoonish, visuals of bloated heads and bulging eyes when characters get high. Meller and Doff play with the frame during these scenes, having characters freezing, appearing to almost be, glitching is the only word I can think to describe it. 

Meller’s camerawork is as precise as Doff’s script; and just as playful. There’s an exuberance running through the movie, a sort of gleeful yawp as the boys try to outrun and outsmart the Duke and his cohorts. Yet, it’s not messy nor does it feel like it’s setting up a franchise.

I hesitate to call Get Duked! frothy entertainment because while it is hilarious and wonderfully enjoyable it is trying to make a point. The cops are useless and full of themselves. But above all, there is the underlying rage at previous generations. The Duke after all isn’t the Duke of course, but he is representative of how the previous generations have benefitted without a thought or care for the generations that came after it.

At one point, the boys have the upper hand against the Duke, holding him and his wife, The Duchess (Georgie Glen) at gunpoint. Even then, The Duke and The Duchess can’t help but chide the boys and make excuses for their own excesses. “We’ve given you this perfect world, and all your lot can do is turn around and say that we have ruined it.”

Dean’s response raises the movie from good to almost great in its earnestness. Oftentimes writers will try to make a point by having the characters sound like the writer and not the character. They will talk in a way incongruous with how they’ve spoken before. But Dean’s speech is perfect because it sounds like Dean, the words he uses are Dean’s, and it hits all the more because of the earnest truth embedded in his rage.

Juneja, Gribben, Bottomley, and Gordon do a magnificent job playing three regular boys. They are annoying, silly, arrogant, and at times unlikable. In other words, they are teenagers, and Doff’s script allows them these moments of prickliness so when they do finally reach the end the growth is noticeable but more importantly believable.

Get Duked! Is the type of movie you check out on a whim only to wonder at the end why more people aren’t talking about it. It’s not groundbreaking but the characters and the story make it feel so immediate. The movie was shown in festivals in 2019 and only recently came to streaming, which means it is technically a year old. Nowadays movies age pretty rapidly. But for a movie to grow only more relevant after it’s release is rare and speaks to Doff’s observant eye. That is a rare talent and one I am curious to see more of; here’s hoping.

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Image courtesy of Amazon Studios

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