‘Trespass Against Us’ Review: Michael Fassbender Brilliant as Conflicted Thief

Chris Tilly

Trespass Against Us screened at the Glasgow Film Festival, and hits U.K. screens on March 3.

The Plot

Chad Cutler (Michael Fassbender) is a member of the travelling community, trying to remain loyal to his domineering father, while at the same time endeavouring to do right by his wife and kids. Chad wants to get them out of the trailer park and away from the cycle of crime and violence that goes with it. But leaving is easier said than done.

Michael Fassbender as Chad and Brendan Gleeson as his father Colby.

Heavyweight Acting Bout

It’s a rare treat getting to watch two actors, both at the very top of their game, going toe-to-toe onscreen. But Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson do just that in Trespass Against Us, the acting heavyweights facing off against each other in a powerful tale of love, honour, betrayal, and redemption.

Fassbender is Chad, a traveller whose brilliance behind the wheel makes him the perfect getaway driver. Which comes in handy when his rag-tag band of brothers are robbing the stately homes that neighbour their caravan site.

But Chad yearns for a better life. Unable to read, he wants his kids to get the education he never received. And he wants to do right by his wife Kelly (Lyndsey Marshal) – by moving the family out of their tiny trailer and into a house far away from the brawlers, thieves and firebugs that inhabit their world.

His father Colby (Gleeson) wants things to stay the way they are, however. A terrifying force of nature, Colby bullies and intimidates his son, and is a terrible influence on his grandkids. Liking nothing more than the sound of his own voice, Colby encourages the children to disobey their parents and cut class. Instead, he teaches them that the earth is flat, evolution is false, and their future lies in a life of crime.

Colby rules the family with an iron fist, instructing them to “travel and conquer” and roping Chad into criminal schemes, often against his will. There’s even mention of him getting another of his sons sent down.

The threat of violence is never far away when he’s around, and Colby frequently uses religion to justify his actions. If he isn’t talking about God or paraphrasing the Bible, he’s quoting the Ten Commandments and comparing himself to Jesus.

The man’s a monster, but a complicated one that’s full of contradictions. Especially as what he does appears to come from a place of love.

But the tension builds as father and son become increasingly at odds. It all comes to a head when Colby identifies a big score; one that can only happen if Chad drives the getaway car, thereby setting the pair on a collision course with potentially devastating consequences for all.

Chad finds trouble. And if not trouble finds him.

Fascinating World

Trespass Against Us is a fascinating examination of an intriguing subculture. Writer Alistair Siddons works hard to make the movie as truthful and authentic as possible, and both Chad and Colby are well-drawn characters with layers and depth.

The same can’t be said for the others that inhabit their world, however, as aside from Kelly, the rest of the travellers are paper-thin, feeling less like characters, and more like caricatures.

The officers of the local constabulary are similarly one-dimensional, and often unnecessarily dumb. Which is frustrating as there’s potential for an interesting duel between Chad and Rory Kinnear’s P.C. Lovage. Especially when one man’s dog dies at the hands of the other. But the fall-out from that incident is quickly and inexplicably forgotten.

Much better are the scenes where Fassbender is behind the wheel. First-time director Adam Smith shoots these adrenaline-fuelled chase sequences with the kinetic energy of a big-budget action flick. Scored by ‘Chemical Brother’ Tom Rowland, they are a much-needed respite from the heavy family drama, and mark him out as a director to watch.

Chad tries to put his kids before his father.

Is Trespass Against Us Good?

Trespass Against Us is ultimately about one man’s efforts to remove his family from a dangerous situation. It’s a noble cause, and as played by Michael Fassbender – taking a break from Hollywood to tackle something a bit more substantial – Chad is a likable anti-hero, in spite of his many shortcomings.

But much as you’ll become invested in his efforts, the real reason to watch the movie is to witness that war between father and son. And the committed efforts of two of the most interesting actors working today.

Gleeson comes out on top, just – his Colby dominating proceedings through one of the best performances of the Irish actor’s career. Which is saying something when you look at his incredible filmography.

But the real winner is the audience, with Trespass Against Us a tense, dramatic and ultimately quite moving tale, about a group of people whose stories rarely get told.

Chris Tilly
FANDOM Managing Editor in the UK. At this point my life is a combination of 1980s horror movies, Crystal Palace football matches, and episodes of I'm Alan Partridge. The first series. When he was in the travel tavern. Not the one after.
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