Ill Manors, 121 mins (18)

It's a rap as Plan B shows he's street-wise

The history of film is littered with pop stars' ill-advised vanity projects, but this brutalist urban melodrama isn't one of them. Okay, it is a vanity project: the 28-year-old writer and director Ben Drew, best known as the rapper Plan B, only gives himself a cameo role, but his music is all over it and the whole thing might have been written off as a flashy extended video for his accompanying concept album of the same name – were it not such an accomplished and fully fleshed debut, such an authentic-seeming representation of street-level criminal life in East London, and such a forceful howl of despair on behalf of the socially excluded and poorly raised.

A multi-stranded ensemble piece set in the area's council estates and crack dens, it develops the links between its characters with care. And while they're a familiar motley bunch of dealers and addicts, teenage gang members and trafficked prostitutes, the film has empathy for even its most degraded or venal characters. It features some very degraded and venal characters indeed, but they are all products of their environment; second-generation victims, at least, repeating cyclical patterns of behaviour with no end in sight. And it is the film's socio-political awareness, rather than its flashy visual tics or its soundtrack, that sets it apart from similar urban youth dramas.