In this British crime thriller, George McKay plays Toby Nealy, a self-styled revolutionary who breaks into the homes of the very rich and paints “I Came By” on their walls. His actions have made the I Came By Tagger something of an underground legend but no one knows his true identity. In the real world, Toby is 23 years old and still lives at home with his long-suffering mother, a psychologist named Lizzie (Kelly MacDonald). Toby’s best friend and partner-in-activism, Jay (Perecelle Ascot), wants to retire from tagging and devote his time to repairing his relationship with his pregnant girlfriend.
Still, Toby is determined to continue with his activities. His latest target is Hector Blake (Hugh Bonneville), a retired judge who has a reputation for being a progressive but who Toby suspects is actually a hypocrite. (Toby notices that Blake has an ivory sculpture in his home and that’s all it takes to convince him that Blake is being insincere.) Working alone, Toby breaks into Blake’s home and discovers that not only does Blake have nice taste in furniture but he also has a half-naked man chained up in the basement.
Unfortunately, try as he might, Toby can’t get anyone to believe him. Jay is too busy with his personal problems. Lizzie, who doesn’t know about her son’s secret life as a graffiti artist, is upset that Toby doesn’t seem to understand how much privilege he has compared to the rest of the world. Toby makes an anonymous call to the police but, when they visit Blake’s home, they don’t find his torture dungeon. Besides, Blake is a respected member of the establishment and everyone also knows that Blake has been outspoken in his defense of refugees. Why would he have a man chained up in his home?
Though the film starts with Toby and his discovery of Blake’s crimes, the action is evenly divided between him, Lizzie, and Jay. All three of them are drawn into investigating Blake. Toby is outraged but he soon discovers that trying to expose Blake is far more dangerous and difficult than just spraying a pithy slogan on the wall. Lizzie goes from believing in the system to discovering that the system only exists to protect certain people and, unfortunately, neither she nor her son are considered to be among them. Meanwhile, Jay is very much aware that, as a black man, investigating Blake will be even more dangerous for him than it will be for Toby and his mother.
It’s an interesting idea and Hugh Bonneville is appropriately sinister as Blake. Indeed, while watching the film, it was hard not to think about the number of rich, self-declared “progressives” who have recently been exposed as exploiting those who they claim to be helping. (Hector Blake has much in common with Ed Buck.) Unfortunately, as intriguing as the idea may be, the execution is lacking. This is one of those films that would have worked well as a compact, 80-minute B film but instead, I Came By runs for nearly two hours. The action unfolds at a slow pace and the story is told with a heavy hand, as if the filmmakers were worried that the man chained in the basement would not be enough to convince us that Hector Blake was an evil dude. When Hector first appears, he’s grimly listening to Henry Purcell’s Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary, a detail that will immediately remind most viewers of the opening of A Clockwork Orange. A word of advice to all filmmakers: Don’t invite comparisons to Stanley Kubrick unless you’re sure you can back them up.