Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not the formulaic plot that I have a problem with as such. After all, these elements have become conventions because they are entertaining when handled well. The seedy King’s Cross setting and the prostitute protagonists offer the potential for an interesting new take on the thriller genre, but the result is, for the most part, disappointing.
There is certainly nothing wrong with how it looks. Hewitt has gone to great trouble to capture the seedy nightlife of the Cross, with its neon-lit strip joints, overflowing MacDonald’s, honking cars and shouting denizens. This seedy but strangely alluring playground of vice is often juxtaposed with the less visible side of King’s Cross: dimly lit allies where old men in Audi’s cruise for young prostitutes, and acts of violence are anonymous and rarely noticed. Living in this area has certainly inspired Hewitt and McClory, and the Cross portrayed is one that is both vibrant and ugly.
Hewitt and Mark Pugh, X’s director of photography, have taken great care in shooting the two protagonists. Due to the sexual nature of their work, it would be easy for the camera to appear at times leering, but instead we find images of strength and vulnerability projected in even the most erotic scenes. As Holly and a male partner perform for an all older-female audience in someone’s lounge room (a wonderfully WTF scene), Holly projects a powerful serenity, even when her partner ejaculates onto her stomach. It is a fine line between erotic and pornographic, and Hewitt has for the most part contained the sex within the first.
It’s a shame, then, considering the film’s artistic merits, that the script sucks.
Hewitt is clearly trying to show us the King’s Cross that has so inspired him, in all its grisly detail, but the characters are slaves to the narrative, being chased screaming or weeping into the next scene before any real complexity can be developed. Instead they rely on tired stereotypes, which although immediately recognisable, are uninteresting. The vicious corrupt cop, the rookie, the last-day-before-retirement vet, and a whole cast of one dimensional hookers, pimps, junkies that feel like props borrowed from other films instead of characters in an original screenplay.
This is largely due to the dialogue, which rushes through the necessary details and often relies too heavily on trite or clichéd statements. This results in the characters not being developed by their speech, but instead stifled, confined to a stereotype and left to play out predictable conclusions. Falling into these patterns, especially when fumbling with expository detail, detracts from our ability to get close to the characters, because we’ve seen it all before in some other movie theatre. On top of this, some lines are just unbelievably cringe-worthy. The murder that sets the excitement going is preceded by the line “Do you like bowling, Willie?” Three shots to the head later, “Because now you’re a bowling ball.” Hewitt apparently based this on a line delivered during an actually gangland killing, but that doesn’t matter; if it sounds fucking stupid in real life, it’s going to sound doubly so on film.
For Hewitt, X is “all about performance”, but except for the two heroines, almost all the cast have almost nothing to work with. And this is the crying-fucking-shame of this film. What separates X from, say, Drive is it’s inability to use recognisable archetypes as a basis from which to develop it’s characters and their relationships with one another. Hewitt and McClory’s script instead relies on the actors to make complex characters out of throwaway lines and confusing choices, which often just doesn’t work.
X simply takes itself too seriously to allow such sloppy writing. In working within a genre with such recognisable conventions, it’s going to be the script that separates a good thriller from a bad thriller, with a good script breathing new life into familiar circumstances and a bad script simply repeating them in a different setting.
Hewitt, though, is unrepentant. “Scripts are an inadequate blueprint for something else,” he says. “They are not poetry, not good prose…They are a waste of time if they don’t get made into a film.” Hewitt would be advised to remember that with films such as X, if the script is no good, the result is a waste of time.
Words: Chris Shearer