The sunken eyes of the young man at the center of Duane Hopkins’s second feature convey a lifetime of obstacles experienced before his time. Barely out of his teens, Tim (George McKay) ekes out an existence stealing and fencing goods in a former industrial town in England. His parents are gone, he works for violent thugs, he’s the legal guardian of his truant sister, and debtors come knocking at their door every day. When his beatific, supportive girlfriend Lilly (Charlotte Spencer) breaks the news of her pregnancy, Tim is not exactly ready to share in the joy.
Miserabilist much? In the case of Bypass, that dismissive term feels especially glib. Hopkins isn’t simply piling troubles on Tim for the sake of arty austerity, and underneath the character’s manifest anxiety, McKay conveys a will to survive and a fundamental decency without ever making Tim seem a martyr, even when he becomes afflicted with a punishing nervous disorder. Hopkins and DP David Procter follow Tim through concrete cityscapes that sometimes overwhelm both the frame and Hopkins’s protagonist, but the digital camera reads these well-cast faces well, the lyricism and lucidity of the sometimes disorientingly edited images endowing them with unexpected warmth.
Any community we do see in Bypass is in a state of dissolution, dying off like Tim’s grandfather and band of friends, or contingent on one-sided propositions (the small-time gangster rackets which entangle Tim, and before him, his older brother). But despite the sense that there’s nowhere left to turn, and quite possibly no hope in sight, Hopkins allows for the chance that Tim can find some way forward.
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