Director: Clive Gordon
Writer: Paul Laverty
Stars: Peter Mullan, Daniel Brühl, Luis Tosar

Peter Mullen is, without a smidgen of doubt, one of the best actors working in Britain at the moment. You might not know then name, but you know who he is: think scary, think Scottish, think Mullan. Almost all of the characters that he plays – even when he’s a likable protagonist – have a not-particularly-latent undercurrent of violence, of existential despair, of being decidedly grumpy. And he chooses his films well; he’s not above mingling with the luvvies in a Harry Potter extravaganza, but more often than not he’s to be found in interesting, low budget productions. As a result his CV ranges from classic horror Session 9 (2001) to Ken Loach (My Name is Joe, 98), from Trainspotting (96) to the under-rated and generally excellent Young Adam (2003). In recent years he’s turned up in the New Zealand TV series Top of the Lake (2013), Scottish musical Sunshine on Leith (2013) and above-average crime film The Liability (2012).

One of his films which has generally dropped under the radar is the weird 2006 thriller Cargo. He plays the moody, taciturn captain of a rickety old cargo vessel sailing from Africa to Marseilles. It’s his ship that German tourist Chris (Daniel Brühl), on the run and without a passport after a spot of trouble with the law, chooses to stow away on in an attempt to get home. When he’s discovered the Captain isn’t best pleased, but puts him to work helping in the kitchen, cleaning the toilets and such like. But the ship is host to a number of secrets and assorted members of the peculiar crew of misanthropes and thugs begin to go missing. Chris would make for a handy suspect, but he’s frankly so weedy and ineffectual that nobody even considers it; maybe instead there are some other unknown travelers in the hold?

Although there’s a lot to like about Cargo – the carefully constructed sense of mood, the cinematography, the acting from character actors like Mullan, Luis Tosar and Gary Lewis – it’s ultimately a rather disappointing affair. Director Clive Gordon was an award winning documentary filmmaker and he’s very good at creating a sense of authenticity but less assured at driving the plot along. Written by frequent Ken Loach collaborator Ken Laverty, it’s undecided about what it wants to be: a thriller, a ghost story or an indictment of immigration laws. As a result it doesn’t really work as any of them. Certain elements are almost totally unexplained – why are the boots of the missing crewmen left behind as a totem? Who is it who’s killing them? What’s the story with Chris? – but it can’t let itself go and settle into being the kind of happily mystical, poetic work in which such ambiguity would flourish. Curiously, at around the same time Mullan and Gary Lewis played another pair of miserable shipmates dealing with illegal immigrants in the rather more acclaimed Far North.

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