The new movie Payback Season is football film minus the football. It stars Adam Deacon, the recent BAFTA rising star award-winner Adam Deacon as Jerome Davies, a naive, hotshot 20-year-old Premier League starlet, who finds himself in trouble when an old friend from his council estate days begins to extort money from him. Things get even hairier for Jerome when his younger brother Anton (ahem) enters the fray.
The brooding Deacon, replete with Julius Caesar haircut and George Michael goatee, does a respectable job in the lead role, but the film’s impact is lessened by its refusal, save for the occasional surface detail (the nightclubs, Davies' flash pad and car), to truly reflect the very specific milieu in which its set. To paraphrase film critic Mick LaSalle, the only connection to reality here is that there are such things as footballers.
The filmmakers’ reluctance to show any actual football is puzzling in the extreme. It is tough to credit Davies as a world-beater when the most we ever see him do is a few kick-ups. We do not even find out in which position he plays. Davies’ team (whoever they are) do not appear to have a manager and the physio, played by squashed Peter Crouch-a-like Leo Gregory, takes control of training. Meanwhile, the press is represented by one attractive female journalist in a plush office with whom Davies strikes up a thoroughly implausible relationship.
Sir Geoff Hurst has presumably been drafted in to lend the film an air of verisimilitude, but instead of appearing as himself (a task that was very much beyond Alan Shearer in Goal!) is required to inhabit the role of Davies' trusty agent. Hurst is game, but by the time of his third and final appearance, he has started to look very confused indeed, as though he does not know if the cameras are still rolling or not.
What makes Payback Season a painful experience, rather than a slice of mid-table mediocrity, is that it feels like such a missed opportunity. Instead of digging deep into the complex world of media relations, dressing-room politics and internecine strife that no doubt underscores the glassy, cosseted netherworld of top-flight football, the "enemy" is presented as wholly external – embodied by a Ledley King-lookalike drug dealer (David Ajala, in the film’s best performance) and the irredeemably nasty world of council estates and their unilaterally feral dwellers.
This would be bearable if the film worked in other areas. As a thriller it is mechanical in the extreme, and as drama it is rote and uninsightful. Plenty of footballers have overcome, or struggled to overcome, tough starts in life (look at the fascinating current case of Ravel Morrison) but Payback Season does not illuminate on that front, preferring instead to trade in on a raft of hoody movie cliches: stylishly filmed beatings, a relentless urban soundtrack which drowns out much of the dialogue and a trite, laddish script peppered with "bruvs" and "batty boys".
Ultimately in Payback Season, the commitment of the performers is undermined by the laziness of the film-making. You are left wanting a more considered portrait of the football world. Ashley Clark