“Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely”

Director: LONE SCHERFIG/2015

Lord Riot was an Englishman who a secret society at Oxford is named after.  Having died at the hands of another man for sleeping with the other man’s wife, Lord Riot become the tales of legend for his debauchary.  Hence, the “riot club” was born.  And through the ages this club has existed in the background of one of Great Britain’s elite universities.

Consisting of no more than 10 members, this club allows an outlet for those gentlemen (and we use that term loosely) to engage in whatever crude and base impulses exist in their person before graduating and quietly hiding amongst the upper echelon of society.  The riot club has produced mostly members of parliament, judges, and other positions of power. They protect their own, having infiltrated every level of government, and for the most part are just simply trying to live up to the legend of Lord Riot.

In the present day, we are introduced to two young men who have come from a privileged background, the finest private secondary schools, yet their hearts are vastly different.  Alistair Ryle (Sam Claflin-Mockingjay, Part 1) is entering Oxford and trying to live up to the legacy of both his parents, and his older brother who all attended.  He is sort that has only been given everything.  He expects to be catered to at every level, and views everyone with contempt, especially those who are not well-off financially.

Miles Richards (Max Irons-Woman in GoldThe Host) has a similar background as Alistair, but he couldn’t be more different.  He is willing to shun excess, and is willing to make his own way.  From trading down his nice dorm room to accommodate Alistair, to dating a girl for love, and not hedonist impulse, this is a man who has a chance.  Lauren, his love interest (Holliday Grainger-Cinderella),sees it as well.

The Riot Club is in need of 2 more members to maintain their needed membership of 10 individuals, and target both Alistair and Miles to fill their vacancies.  After a series of initiation rituals, its off to a traditional dinner where all bets are off, and the riot members fully expect to be able to, well…..run riot over an unsuspecting restaurant owner.

The Riot Club plays on familiar tropes of class warfare.  The Haves vs. the have-nots.  Mixing in elements of The SkullsThe Bling Ring, and any fraternity pledging sequenceThe Riot Clubfeels too familiar and worn out as a novel premise.  Much of the front end of the story is too weighted with gratuitous shots of men exploiting the women of college with shots of topless women satisfying riot club members sexually, only to be thrown away for the next victim.  “Girls for now, girls for later” is one of their phrases, and the film tries to make you feel that.

It also looks to provide commentary on the economic divide that still plagues society, and especially western society today.  The poor are seen as either hardworking people who can’t catch a break.  They are either noble people like Lauren, or the restaurant owner and his daughter, who have a moral code, or they are the muggers in an alleyway waiting to rob you at an ATM. The wealthy, including members of The Riot Club, are the powerful who buy their away out of trouble, who look down upon the rest of us, and who have no heart or remorse for the destruction they leave in their wake.

Director Lone Scherfig (An Education, Italian for Beginners) is able to direct a few compelling scenes of contrast between these polar economic extremes, namely through the moments involving Miles.  He is caught in the middle of enjoying his privilege and the thought of the opportunities and the power that The Riot Club will afford him after school is over, coupled with his desire to look beyond that and see and enjoy people no matter what their background is.  His climatic scene with Lauren at the restaurant is a great moment in this film.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film feels very disjointed in terms of character development.  Alistair’s emotional state changes constantly, without warning, and not a satisfying reason is offered for his disdain other than what is said on the surface of things.  We hardly get any understanding of the other Riot Club member’s background, and they serve mainly to just go nuts in the scenes where open debauchery is supposed to be on display.

Overall, all The Riot Club manages to do is take almost 2 hours to prove up what Lord Acton said so subsequently all those years ago:

Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely”.