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The Selfish Giant (2013)

tomatometer

97

Average Rating: 8.1/10
Reviews Counted: 63
Fresh: 61 | Rotten: 2

Starkly emotional and beautifully directed, The Selfish Giant uses a lovely script and some powerful performances to present some of the best that modern British cinema has to offer.

94

Average Rating: 7.5/10
Critic Reviews: 18
Fresh: 17 | Rotten: 1

Starkly emotional and beautifully directed, The Selfish Giant uses a lovely script and some powerful performances to present some of the best that modern British cinema has to offer.

audience

85

liked it
Average Rating: 4/5
User Ratings: 2,681

My Rating

Movie Info

THE SELFISH GIANT is a contemporary fable about 13 year old Arbor (Conner Chapman) and his best friend Swifty (Shaun Thomas). Excluded from school and outsiders in their own neighborhood, the two boys meet Kitten (Sean Gilder), a local scrapdealer - the Selfish Giant. They begin collecting scrap metal for him using a horse and cart. Swifty has a natural gift with horses while Arbor emulates Kitten - keen to impress him and make some money. However, Kitten favors Swifty, leaving Arbor feeling

Unrated,

Drama

Clio Barnard

Apr 29, 2014

$12.2k

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All Critics (63) | Top Critics (18) | Fresh (61) | Rotten (2)

"The Selfish Giant" is a story of dependence, damage and desperation, told with grit and grimy frankness. It's also a portrait of friendship born of need and emptiness, on the road to nowhere.

February 19, 2014 Full Review Source: Detroit News
Detroit News
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Clio Barnard's The Selfish Giant isn't the Oscar Wilde children's story, but more an inspired take on it in the kitchen-sink style of a Ken Loach drama.

January 23, 2014 Full Review Source: Toronto Star
Toronto Star
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Ultimately, it's a sad, tough sit - but worth seeing for its gritty honesty and strong cast.

January 16, 2014 Full Review Source: Seattle Times
Seattle Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Much of the movie is hard to bear, yet it never drags, thanks to the momentum that Barnard finds in the fable, and, above all, to the energy that she unleashes in her young leads.

January 13, 2014 Full Review Source: New Yorker
New Yorker
Top Critic IconTop Critic

[A] wrenching story of working-poor desperation in northern England.

January 9, 2014 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The Selfish Giant is a film of such power and beauty that there will be no escaping it -- so long as you go to see it in the first place.

January 3, 2014 Full Review Source: The New Republic
The New Republic
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The first great fiction film to be released in 2014, Clio Barnard's second feature, "The Selfish Giant," is breathtakingly assured, ruggedly beautiful, moving and justifiably tragic.

April 4, 2014 Full Review Source: Newcity
Newcity

There's nothing genteel - or veiled - about documentary-maker turned writer/director Clio Barnard's powerful portrait of austerity England.

April 3, 2014 Full Review Source: Flicks.co.nz
Flicks.co.nz

It is especially notable for its compassion. It doesn't pass judgment on even its most thoughtless and conniving characters.

March 10, 2014 Full Review Source: Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)
Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)

Somehow ferocious and coarse yet still delicate and often beautiful, The Selfish Giant relays a tragic tale with great power.

March 9, 2014 Full Review Source: Quickflix
Quickflix

The tone of documentary accuracy makes the film even darker.

February 28, 2014 Full Review Source: Canada.com
Canada.com

It's a powerful story about an underclass that might otherwise be all but invisible.

January 23, 2014 Full Review Source: National Post
National Post

A quietly upsetting coming-of-age story about the many people and places that can be considered a 'bad influence.'

January 9, 2014 Full Review Source: RedEye
RedEye

Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas are terrific fresh finds for Barnard, and the film is a triumph in the direction of young untried actors.

December 30, 2013 Full Review Source: Sight and Sound
Sight and Sound

Regardless of its initial box-office performance, The Selfish Giant will have a very long shelf life and will be watched for years to come.

December 30, 2013 Full Review Source: Independent
Independent

It uses powerful, naturalistic performances from a juvenile cast to emphasize the spirited fortitude of kids stuck in terrible situations, but never resorts to even an atom of sentimentality.

December 30, 2013 Full Review Source: Oregonian
Oregonian

"The Selfish Giant" is easy to admire but difficult to recommend, because the truths it tells about friendship, poverty and desperation are presented without flinching.

December 20, 2013 Full Review Source: RogerEbert.com
RogerEbert.com

The Selfish Giant never feels predictable. Credit the remarkable young actors, as well as Barnard's observant style: Every moment in this film is alive with possibility, with the chance that everything will go haywire in a new way.

December 20, 2013 Full Review Source: Vulture
Vulture

Audience Reviews for The Selfish Giant

'The Selfish Giant'. The sucker punch of that first beautiful frame to the relentless bleakness that follows is cruel. Miserable, masterful.

Outstanding, gritty performances from first-timers, and a director whose future I will follow eagerly, given the worlds she seems to want to delve into.
February 17, 2014
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December 31, 2013
Directors Cat
Directors Cat

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In an attempt to calm down his best friend Arbor(Conner Chapman), Swifty(Shaun Thomas) takes him for a midnight ride on a horse. Along the way, they steal some copper cable which utility workers had already appropriated for their own profit and sell it to Kitten(Sean Gilder), a scrap dealer. That money comes in handy for the truancy fine Arbor's mother(Rebecca Manley) has to pay. However, she does not become fully suspicious until the boys try to wash their own clothes. That is not the end of their troubles as Arbor is expelled from school for defending Swifty from a group of bullies who in turn is suspended for ten days.

Written and directed by Clio Barnard, "The Selfish Giant" is an exacting, beautifully filmed and timeless tale of an upside down world where children attempt to take care of the adults, aging too quickly in the bargain. A sign of this is industrial decay resulting in the desperation that leads to people like those in Detroit stripping the infrastructure of whatever is not nailed down. Even with all of that going on, Swifty finds his opportunity from the most unlikeliest of sources. The tragedy of Arbor who is both hero and villain is that he never stops long enough to consider all the ramifications of his actions.
December 25, 2013
Harlequin68
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

Arbor (Chapman) and Swifty (Thomas) are two young boys living in squalor in a tough part of Bradford. Arbor suffers from hyperactivity, flying into fits of rage when not medicated, while Swifty is a quiet, sensitive boy, happiest when around the various horses that populate the fields around their rundown council estate. When Arbor defends Swifty from a bunch of bullying boys, both young men find themselves kicked out of school. Upon learning of the value of copper cable in the scrap trade, the boys set about working for local scrap dealer Kitten (Gilder), a Fagan type who is all too happy to exploit the young boys' thievery skills.

Low budget British cinema generally assumes two guises; wannabe American genre efforts (usually gangster or horror movies) and gritty social realist dramas. The former usually bears unwatchable results, failing to compete with the American movies they imitate. The latter is a type of film that nobody does as well as the Brits and accounts for a huge percentage of any list of great British films. What's always noticeable is just how easy they make this sort of film-making look. These films have resulted in some of the most naturalistic performances ever captured, all the more remarkable when you take into account how often they feature untrained, amateur actors and heavy improvisation.
'The Selfish Giant' is yet another product of the "It's grim oop North" school of film-making and though it's cliched in its themes and doesn't present much we haven't seen before, it's, for most of its running time, thoroughly gripping.
Chapman and Thomas are a pair of boys discovered by writer-director Barnard while shooting her previous film, documentary 'The Arbor'. Their performances are so incredibly natural it makes something of a mockery of the craft of film acting. They behave like children acting like adults, unlike professional child actors, who generally do the opposite.

Barnard doesn't opt for any easy sentimentality. Her protagonist, Arbor, is hard to warm to. We see him do some pretty despicable things but at the same time we understand his motivations. A scene where he comforts his long suffering mother with a passionate embrace is one of the most moving moments of the year.
Loosely influenced by the Oscar Wilde children's story of the same name, 'The Selfish Giant' goes off the rails in its final act, relying on an all too predictable turn of events. It's a shame Barnard couldn't give us a more satisfying ending as up to that point her film is both charming and distressing in equal measure.
October 21, 2013
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Foreign Titles

  • Le Géant égoïste (FR)
  • El gigante egoísta (ES)
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