Named after the revered, and tragically murdered in a brawl over a woman – Lord Riot, The Riot Club was established at Oxford University to keep the dead man’s name going. Miles (Max Irons) finds himself drawn into The Riot Club, but one dinner changes his perception of the club – and his life – forever.
Based on Laura Wade’s stage play Posh, The Riot Club paints a very unpretty picture of the upper class, and those who find themselves living in the bubble of Oxford University.
Max Irons plays Miles, the centre of the story, and the young man who finds himself with a foot in both camps; young and privileged, but wanting to stand out from the shadow of his parents. Irons does an adequate job of playing the character and manages to make Miles likeable for the first half of the film. When the script turns against him, however, Irons struggles to help the audience remember why they liked his character in the first place. Holliday Grainger plays Miles’ love interest Lauren, and she tries to be the voice of reason when Miles becomes involved with the Riot Club. Grainger does fine in the role but, like the rest of them, hers is totally underwritten, and only gives us a glimpse into the character. The rest of the cast is made up of Douglas Booth, Freddie Fox, Sam Reid and Olly Alexander. Most of these young men do an adequate job of showing an ugly side of a prestigious university, but none of them really get to create a character of their own.
The story is actually a rather powerful one; the young, rich and privileged feel hatred for those poorer than them, and presumably for being born into their parents’ shadows. Instead of talking to a counsellor or dealing with their emotions in a civilised manner, on a night out, The Riot Club lives up to its name; pulling a quiet pub asunder and setting on those who will not them behave as they want. There is a definite parallel being drawn between these lads and less privileged youths who are drawn to destruction in the same manner, and there are moments of greatness in the film. That said, however, the film is so drawn out to be tedious, with the point – ‘the rich are bastards too!’ – being hammered home so often and so forcefully that the film becomes a chore, rather than entertaining.
Director Lone Scherfig has produced some interesting works in the past – Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself and An Education – and some that didn’t live up to their promise (One Day). Sadly for a film with so much potential, The Riot Club falls into the latter category. Scherfig does not give any of the actors to create a fully rounded character, instead hoping that enough will be given away through singular character traits and repeated behaviours. Everything feels so laboured and drawn out that by the time the gut punch of the story happens, the audience has lost interest in the tale of these destructive and demanding men.
The Riot Club has the kernel of a strong point hidden in a tale of entitled and spoiled Upper Class Twits of the Year. With no strong moral voice to root for, The Riot Club sadly lives up to its name and as unruly and lacking in focus as the young men at the centre of the story.