“It’s 24 hours in the life of a Muslim crack cocaine dealer,” says Shifty’s writer-director Eran Creevy, “but that’s not what it’s really about.” Listen to the man. The pitch may make it sound like your run of the mill British gangster flick, but this is, first and foremost, a film about friendship, as Chris (Daniel Mays) returns to Dudlowe (subbing for Creevy’s home town of Harlow) after four years in Manchester, to visit his old mate Shifty (Riz Ahmed), now a successful drug dealer. Dismayed at his friend’s career choice, Chris tags along for the day as Shifty does his rounds, selling crack to a stuffed cat-obsessed OAP (Francesca Annis in a hilarious cameo), evading a desperate client (Jay Simpson), and finding himself double-crossed by his duplicitous junkie supplier, Glen (Jason Flemyng). As Shifty’s world begins to spiral out of control, and the tragic circumstances behind Chris’ sudden departure north gradually reveal themselves, the two men undergo a tense journey of the rediscovery that offers both a second chance at a better life.
Made for a miniscule £100,000 as part of Film London’s Microwave scheme, Shifty belies its budget in both ambition and execution. Resolutely cinematic, with a brace of subtle performances and a low-key tone, Creevy’s frank and honest debut is, thankfully, more concerned with character and dialogue than gunplay and violence. Quite how autobiographical the film is, Creevy reveals during the course of a 54-minute interview that’s part of an impressive extras package, detailing the script’s genesis from the time he ran into the real-life Shifty, a former college friend turned crack dealer. “Daniel Mays looks a bit like me,” he laughs of his identification with Chris. “But I’m better looking.”
While Creevy and Ahmed’s commentary track wasn’t available for review, the former’s lengthy interview is pretty comprehensive, covering everything from the difficulties of working with so little time and money, to casting, to how his first draft was much more Napoleon Dynamite in tone. Three Behind The Scenes features offer valuable insight into his working methods, visual ideas, and his collaboration with Mays and Ahmed, the camera eavesdropping as they rehearsal a pivotal argument between Chris and Shifty, a kitchen scene involving Shifty’s devout older brother (Nitin Ganatra), and, lastly, the introduction of Glen’s character. There’s some repetition in material between the brief Making Of and Creevy’s interview, but it’s a small issue. Filling out the two-disc set are deleted scenes, a trailer and several of Creevy’s pop videos and commercials, including a beautifully shot ad for Nike. An energetic, convincing, wholly satisfying, sensitively handled first feature, Shifty marks the arrival of a major filmmaking talent. Remember the name: Eran Creevy. You’ll be hearing it a lot.
* Originally published in DVD & Blu-ray Review.