Justin Edgar’s noir thriller The Marker tells the story of underworld criminal Marley (Frederick Schmidt) accidentally killing a woman called Ana (Ana Alaru) in front of her 9-year old daughter, Cristina (Lara Peake) during an ill-fated incident over an unpaid debt.
Marley is relentlessly haunted by his guilt in the guise of the ghost of his victim, and he seeks redemption by vowing to look after the young girl upon his release from prison. His return to the murky underworld of the Second City uncovers a dark web of corruption and people trafficking and he must use his criminal skills and knowledge of a brutal underworld to find Ana’s child and lead her to safety.
Shot and edited in the post-industrial heartlands of Birmingham, The Marker is Edgar’s fourth feature film. It’s a captivating watch, thanks largely to some sturdy performances and an unforgiving and brutally realistic portrayal of criminal life.
Despite some impressive cinematography, there is no deliberately glamorous post-production touching up of either the actors or the scenery here. You rarely see any of the Midlands sunshine, and the actors look ravaged, grimy and depleted. You can almost smell the urine-soaked streets they bound through, as well as their nicotine-tainted hair.
For a story so grim, laughs are obviously limited, but when they come, they come hard and strong. During a graphic bedroom murder scene, a crime accomplice offers advice on how to clean up the operation: “You missed a bit. There’s a bit of eyeball and bollock on the lamp shade over there.”
Frederick Schmidt is convincing in the lead role as a man haunted by guilt, on the quest for forgiveness for the crimes he has committed.
The Marker is a smart and independent feature, yet there are similarities throughout. Schmidt’s performance harks back the work of Tom Hardy and Jack O’Connell (with whom he co-starred in David Mackenzie’s Starred Up); and the image of Cristina (played by Lara Peake) prompts the memories of watching a young Drew Barrymore.
There are occasional moments that jar for the wrong reasons. Cathy Tyson’s role is so fleeting, it seems a massive shame not to give her usually dynamic talents something more substantial. The somewhat lacklustre scenes where the illusion of murdered Ana appear to remind Marley of his wrong-doing aren’t quite eerie enough and seem a little underplayed. John Hannah’s portrayal of Brendan Doyle is compelling, but the sheer weight of his menace is only really demonstrated an hour into the film. A missed trick, surely?
Small gripes aside, The Marker is a solid and entertaining piece of work by Justin Edgar. And considering how modest his movie production line is so far, it bodes well for an interesting future of filmmaking.
● The Marker opens in UK cinemas this Friday