Like the film's title evoking the poem by Robert Burns, the best laid schemes much too often fail to turn out as planned. Or as in the case of this British drama, the filmmakers' best intentions of instilling a tragic tale into the underground fight movie don't quite deliver the emotional punch they had probably hoped for. That's not to say, the film is bad. There are some strong, touching moments spread throughout its 108-minute runtime and features great performances from the three main leads: Stephen Graham, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Maxine Peake. The issue is that the story feels very generic and terribly predictable.
The film from television director David Blair is loosely inspired by John Steinbeck's classic novel Of Mice and Men, but replaces the plantation farms of California with the grimy mean streets of Nottingham. The quick-witted and resourceful George is swapped for a small-time hustler Danny (Graham), who isn't quite as shrewd as his forebearer. Graham is splendid in the role, however, making Danny into a pitiful, spiritless sad sack barely capable of scrounging a living let alone responsible enough to care for our Lennie-substitute, Joseph (Akinnuoye-Agbaje). Of the entire cast, it is the brilliant performance by Mr. Akinnuoye-Agbaje which stands out, winning our sympathies and compassion without seeming pretentious or hammy.
The script by relative newcomer Chris Green takes a while to find its footing, but once it does, the narrative becomes a mildly compelling struggle to escape one's misfortune and lot in life. But before getting to that, which doesn't even come to fruition until about an hour into the movie, audiences are forced to plod along through a moderately tense confrontation between Danny and a crime boss (David O'Hara), to whom he owes a great deal of money. To repay his debt, Danny is forced to enter the abnormally strong Joseph in a series of underground cage fights. Unfortunately, we're not allowed to see any of those fights until first seeing how desperately Danny tries to avoid doing something so despicable. The filmmakers have their hearts in the right place, but these scenes prior to the bloody matches are flagrant attempts at not thinking unkindly of the character.
While we wait for the fights to commence, Danny and Joseph have chance encounters with two lovely ladies on separate occasions. Isabel (Peake) is Joseph's equal and their budding relationship is a cute one. Meanwhile, Danny's doting persistence of Lisa (Emma Stansfield), an art student working as a call girl, eventually starts to pay off. As tension between the two friends begins to mount, which comes to its own in one great scene during Christmas dinner, the plot seems to skew slightly in the right direction, one which could have been the film's overall saving grace. But the pace jarringly changes back to its original storyline about paying back old debts with violent cage matches, affecting the narrative's better aspects with damaging results.
Taking Burns' poem to heart, Danny's money-making schemes end precisely as expected, especially when his new girlfriend warns him not to return for the fishing gear. The final moments are very well-done and ultimately satisfying to be sure, hinting at Blair's talent behind the camera when he's not weighed down by a somewhat troubled script, but the conclusion is predictable nonetheless. 'Best Laid Plans' is not a complete loss, but it could be a whole lot better. As a modern adaptation to Steinbeck's classic tale of survival in a cruel, indifferent world, it makes for an intriguing watch, kept afloat by several touching segments of two very close friends and excellent performances by the three main leads.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Well Go Entertainment brings 'Best Laid Plans' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a glossy slipcover. Both the Region Free, BD25 disc and the DVD-9 copy of the movie sit comfortably on opposing panels inside a blue eco-lite keepcase. At startup, viewers can watch a series of forced trailers before switching over to a main menu still with music and full-motion clips playing in the top right corner of the screen.
'Best Laid Plans' makes its way to Blu-ray with a highly-detailed 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.35:1) but it shows some very minor issues worth noting. Most problematic is slight posterization in the dark shadows, made most apparent when an actor moves or the camera slowly pans. It's fairly easy to miss, but there nonetheless. Blacks are generally rich and true, adding depth and giving the image an attractive cinematic quality; however, a few scenes lose a bit of their luster and can look pretty muddy. On the other hand, the rest of the transfer is fairly bright and crisp thanks to the spot-on contrast. The palette is noticeably drained, which is deliberate in order to give the film a grimy sense of unease, but primaries, especially reds, remain bold and accurate. Definition and clarity are excellent, revealing plenty of fine texture around clothing and the faces of actors. Though a few scenes fair a tad softer by comparison, the high-def video looks great overall.
On the audio side, the DTS-HD MA soundtrack falls a tad flat but still fairly good for what it is. It's a front-heavy design that places all the attention on the dialogue, which is to be expected for a character-driven film. Vocals are clear and intelligible in the center while the other two channels display several off-screen effects to broaden the soundstage. In spite of this, there isn't a whole lot going on in terms of dynamics and acoustics, providing the score with limited range and very little detailing in the instrumentation. Bass is decent enough for the music, but it's unremarkable and somewhat lacking during the fight scenes. That's not to say each punch feels anemic, but it's neither terse nor effective. Save for a few barely audible atmospherics, rear speakers are practically nonexistent and never truly engage the listener, making this lossless mix good but ultimately forgettable.
The only available supplement is the original theatrical trailer.
Loosely inspired by John Steinbeck's classic novel Of Mice and Men, 'Best Laid Plans' tells the tragic tale of pair of misfits who care deeply for one another. Forced to pit his best friend in violent cage fights in order to repay old debts, the drama is predictably generic but kept afloat by several genuinely touching moments and excellent performances. The Blu-ray arrives with very good picture quality but a mostly dull and flat audio presentation. The bare-bones release ranks as a rental at best.