Martyr short film review

★★★★

Directed by: #ARUgas

Written by: #ARUgas

Starring: #DominicThompson, #JaySandhar, #TevAnderson, #JoshmaineJoseph

Film Review by: Darren Tilby



Continuing with the Writer/Director’s penchant for gritty socio-cultural storytelling, AR Ugas’ latest short-film release, Martyr, tackles racial tension in modern-day Britain. When a Birmingham-based weapons dealer (Dominic Thompson) sells an assault rifle to a young Muslim man (Jay Sandhar), he must face up to his own criminal life choices when he later suspects the man to be an ISIS terrorist.


Ugas has a knack for writing incredibly layered representational characters and dialogue and finding actors good enough to bring it all to realisation. Martyr is no exception. The film’s cast excels in their respective roles and delivers their lines with a conviction and finesse rarely seen in short films. It’s not all plain sailing: there are moments when the writing quality drops off slightly - Sandhar’s character reveal towards the end of the film is a good example. And, while well-performed, the character’s behaviour in this scene doesn’t come across as plausible. It’s not a big problem in itself, but for a movie that relies on its authenticity, it does feel a little off.


Another of Ugas’ talents is his ability to get to the nitty-gritty of complex social and cultural issues: in this case, it’s racial and religious tensions caused by terrorism, specifically in Western society. The way it’s handled; its commentary on racial profiling - it’s possible (easy, in fact) to draw parallels between it and the black lives matter movement that has been sweeping the US and UK since the unlawful killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In this way, Ugas’ work has never seemed more pertinent or timely than here, in this tale of presumption and mistaken identity. A fact he drives home by instilling that same conjectural attitude in the viewer.


When we look at the technical side of the film; the aesthetics, I think it’s fair to say that it’s a no-frills affair. Not bad, but basic. Everything here is competently put together and entirely acceptable, but it’s not remarkable in any way - which is fine, of course. What is impressive, however, is how ably the camera can capture the look and feel of the film’s setting: the city of Birmingham. It provides the foundation for our characters, their way of life and their beliefs, and it adds credence to the world they inhabit.


Martyr is the second of Ugas’ films I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing and it’s great to see how he, as a writer and a filmmaker, has developed. This is a brilliant slice of independent filmmaking, one that’s unafraid to tackle head-on the complexities of the socio-cultural quagmire of modern-day Britain.