A chaotic car ride across a field sets the stage for Trespass Against Us in two important way. Firstly, it establishes an archaic tone; we’re not sure initially if the passengers in the car are chasing something or being chased, but soon we realize, unnervingly so, that they are just on a lark. The Chemical Brothers provide a soundtrack in this scene and others for first time director Adam Smith’s tale of a British clan living in a traveling community, and the dangerous romp across the landscape isn’t the last wild car chase we’ll see.
Secondly though, and more importantly, we quickly come to know our main family, and already start to sympathize with Chad. Played by Michael Fassbender, whose performance lends much needed likeability to the character, Chad is loyal, illiterate, passionate, torn, and cavalier. His life is of crime, living off the grid with his wife, two kids, his father (Brendan Gleeson), and a cadre of other ne’er-do-wells and hooligans.
They are part of a traveling community regularly ostracized by so-called settlers (those with houses and jobs and such) and hounded by police. Though to be fair, the latter is usually justified.
It’s their world we explore, and it’s Chad’s troubles we cope with. He opts to break free of this nefarious, unsafe existence in order to protect his kids, who he wants to get the proper education he never had. All the while his imposing father pushes him to work on more jobs (read: burglaries), and not worry so much. The only education he needed after all was a religious one.
Buoyed by two impressive leading performances, Trespass Against Us is a fascinating look into an alienated community seldom explored and understood. It’s not always comfortable, but it’s also doesn’t build to anything particularly dramatic. There is excitement and emotion, and indeed plenty of humour, especially when Chad and company battles wits with police, including one played by Rory Kinnear, but the film never swells to anything meaningful in its conclusion. It begins in the middle of tension, which is for the better, but the struggles, perhaps for the worse, don’t have quite the satisfying conclusion.