25 Nov 2021
Nicholas Clarke, Gregory Piper, Esther Stanford
In the heart of Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, an illicit bare-knuckle boxing match ends in upset: the boxer with long odds wins, and the punters are furious. Daz (Nicholas Clarke) skims a wedge off the winnings and bolts, quickly followed by angry patrons. They catch him, beat him – in the confusion, someone stabs him – and drag him back to the warehouse, leaving him locked in a broom cupboard to await the arrival of the boss. Now, Daz must figure out a way to escape, pay off the man who wanted the winnings, and make his flight to Spain, all while trying not to bleed out.
Jez Alsop’s Fixed plays out a little like a British Reservoir Dogs – except, we already know who the rat is, and instead of hopping around the timeline, we stick with Daz in his cupboard. This is no bad thing, especially when Clarke’s performance is as strong as it is. He presents a frantic, terrified man, begging for his life – and for favours. The section where he calls number after number, rejected each time (almost everyone he knows has come to expect the worst of him), and seesaws between cheery greetings and desperate anger is brilliant. There are great moments of tragedy throughout the film; Daz blames himself for everything, and now he is desperately trying to rebuild his life atop the ruins of his old one. Clarke’s constant presence – he is practically never offscreen – lifts the film considerably.
Such a strong central performance is crucial, not least because it makes it easier to overlook some narrative issues. For example, wouldn’t the man guarding the door have taken away Daz’s phone the second he heard it ringing? Additionally, some of the more emotional moments are bogged down by exposition, and characters explaining to each other things they already know. There is also a lot of time spent establishing Daz’s kindness. An alcoholic and somewhat absent father, in one scene he realises that a fellow AA member is struggling, gives her solid advice, and asks their sponsor to check on her. It is easier to root for a man who is doing his best despite the circumstances, rather than a hardened criminal, which he could have been. It would have been interesting to see how Alsop and Davis would have humanised someone like that.
On the technical side of things, Gary Rogers’ cinematography is dark, gritty, grimy. The shot of the broom cupboard’s lock, painted shut, slowly turning brown is great. A trick of the light makes it hard to tell at first that these stains are not rust, but blood from Daz’s scrabbling fingers. There is a strange decision to use split screen, but only when Daz is on the phone with his friend Ravi (Nisaro Karim, in a brilliant supporting role). This is disappointing in its inconsistency, but it does lead to some interesting shots. Towards the end of the film, in a dream sequence reminiscent of Get Out’s Sunken Place, Daz falls through darkness. Despite the seriousness of this moment, Clarke ends up looking as though he is simply flailing against a black background. The mise en scène, meanwhile, is mostly good, with Daz understandably finding much of what he needs to fashion an escape inside the cupboard, but three different drinks (including alcohol, to tempt him) lined up on a makeshift bar seem a bit on the nose.
Fixed is, at times, an intense affair. Clarke’s performance anchors the film, his desperation palpable and compelling. Despite some convenient writing and ineffective editing choices, Alsop’s film is overall strong and definitely worth a look.