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Review: Group B

Premise:

It is 1986, the peak of high-octane Group B rally driving. Known for its incredibly dangerous off-road races, notorious for lack of crowd control, and some of the most powerful and sophisticated cars the world has ever seen, this is the golden era of rallying. Rally driver Shane Hunter is facing his comeback to Group B competition after a long and troubled absence.

Review:

While there are many short films that can wow you with great acting, captivating cinematography and compelling stories, being hit with the ‘whoa’ factor that Group B delivers is a rare and unique experience. This film is cinematic in every sense, enhanced by a star turn by Richard Madden (Game of Thrones, Bodyguard).


Nick Rowland helms an intense feast for the senses, guiding his script co-written by Joe Murtagh that puts us inside the troubled mind of traumatised racer Shane as he makes his way back to the hazardous world of Group B rally driving following a tragic accident. We are treated to a confluence of some of the most meticulously constructed filmmaking paired with a performance from Madden that perfectly masks his potentially debilitating vulnerability with an outer stoicism that none of the other characters, try as they might, simply cannot breach. Knowing how to show us his internal turmoil with the simplest of glances and switch on a dime to absolute focus is but one example of the standard of performance that Madden brings to the table.


Madden’s performance is bolstered by a strong supporting cast, notably his driving partner Martin played by Michael Smiley. His gruff and hands on persona is the perfect counterpoint to Madden’s near-silent and often unreadable Shane. Their dynamic gives energy to their individual performances, underscoring Shane’s perceived detachment while demonstrating both the support of his team and the pressure to deliver once the race begins.


In terms of style, Rowland and DP Sverre Sørdal seemingly figure out how to almost physically put the audience inside Shane’s mind. Some of the images that this film delivers beggar belief, from perspectives, to extreme yet razor sharp close-ups and seemingly impossible angles. At times, we see through Shane’s eyes without having to resort to POV shots. Other times we are given slow motion shots so precisely composed, they are borderline impressionist paintings, reflecting Shane’s state of mind through the way that the environment and action around him is captured. Rowland and Sødal give us visuals that put us into the intimate spaces in Shane’s thoughts and perspectives that the other characters simply cannot reach.


All of these elements serve to illustrate Shane’s backstory and the basis of his internal conflict without him once having to exposit what happened to him. Instead, we are given a masterclass in ‘show, don’t tell’ with fellow racers alluding to Shane’s past without fully revealing it, augmented by flashbacks seamlessly weaved into the visuals happening in the moment. Murtagh and Rowland’s script doubles down on making the story about Shane’s journey to catharsis, thereby choosing when to reveal backstory and only doing so when it thematically ties into events as they unfold.


A masterful display of editing and sound mixing holds complete sway over when you will be immersed, isolated or thrilled. This makes the film one of the most effective demonstrations of tension building and high-stakes, adrenaline-fuelled cinema that you are likely to see outside of…well…a cinema. The film paces itself in service of character over plot, only releasing the wound-up tension in a blaze of speed and sound when it serves Shane’s journey.


The blending of beautifully arresting imagery and high-energy action is delivered with the kind of precision not often seen outside of a big budget feature. Rowland leads a team that delivers kinetic cinema on the highest level while telling a personal story of fear, trauma and the long road to redemption.


A wonderfully constructed, passionately delivered and masterfully executed short film experience – Group B is a huge recommendation.


Studio: National Film & Television School | Year: 2015 | Genre: Drama | Duration: 25 Mins | Suitability: Mature


Cast: Richard Madden, Michael Smiley, Dominic Wolf


Crew:

Director: Nick Rowland | Producer: Alexandra Breede | Writers: Joe Murtagh, Nick Rowland


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