Play (2011) [Review]

ruben-ostlund-playPlay – 9/10

Clicking throughout Amazon looking for more DVDs to add to the collection, I catch a glimpse of Play. An indie looking film from Sweden, directed by Ruben Östlund (Force Majeure / De ofrivilliga) based on a series of actual crimes consisting of stealing via bullying and intimidation that occurred in central Gothenberg. Sold.

I’ve always been intrigued in not only true story films, but the way in which the notion of bullying is addressed in different scenarios by different directors. Play ends up taking on a similar line of offence to that of ‘Evil‘; group intimidation, a feeling of wanting what is rightfully yours and a need to see your victims perform humiliating acts in return for nothing.


Where this film differs, is the depiction of a racial divide and Östlund isn’t afraid to show it. 5 young black boys take the phone from 2 white boys and 1 Chinese boy, and lead them on to odd places in a sort of ‘good cop/bad cop’ routine. Even when you look at one of the most comprehensive documentaries on the subject like ‘Bully‘, or the vast array of others that tackle this issue, this divide is not often addressed.

There is nothing explicitly stated or even suggested that the bullies needed the phone for anything other than that they wanted it. They don’t dress particularly scruffy, they don’t have any real mannerisms that conform to the stereotypical image of someone who would be ‘poor’, but they use their victims predetermined impressions of them and take advantage of the boys fears.


This feeling of helplessness on all fronts is emphasised by the camerawork; long static shots with the events happening  both in and out of frame, never allowed to really share the perspective of the bully or the ones being bullied. It plods along quietly but it’s absolutely captivating, and what drives this forward is its complete and utter realism. The brilliant cast putting in some immensely believable performances, and overall it begins to feel less like a film and more like a documentary.

Östlund has created a very thought-provoking film here, by bringing acts of crime that were perhaps not that well-known beyond that of Gothenburg, that occur almost everywhere, he has caused a lot of discussion. The racial divide between the two groups of boys is never used as an excuse, nor does it ever really get brought up, but a light has been shone on it regardless. What became clear as the film progressed was the bullying and motivation was primarily driven out of a class/societal divide; they are both products of their environments and the black boys wanted what the white boys had. They were not motivated by race, but they were divided from the beginning.

For the viewers looking on, they will realise parallels with where they live, attitudes from people they know, but these boys are and were simply too young to know any different or better. This is a case of boys being bullied by other boys, but highlights societal, racial and economic divides that are there in the beginning, and remain there until the end.

A definite talking point, a well accomplished and great piece of film – I urge you to seek out Play, and do let me know your thoughts below.

2 responses to “Play (2011) [Review]

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