A whole host of gangsters, pimps, low-lifes, call-girls, ex-cons and bent cops move in and out of each other’s lives during a couple of busy days in Southend-on-Sea in Essex. Jimmy The Gent (Peter Wight) is up from London to see local big man Shrewd Eddie (Paul Freeman) and has a big wedge of cash on him, which seemingly everyone has a plan to lay hold of. But who will be left sitting pretty?
The story of how this film came to the big (and now smaller) screen is labyrinthine but impressive. Writer and Director David Hughes had written a script for the short film that preceded it (A Girl and A Gun) and a music composer that he knew from his day job in film advertising offered to try to pass it to actor Ian Hart (Backbeat, Harry Potter, Enemy of the State), who he saw in the school playground when they both dropped their kids off. Incredibly, Hart called Hughes up, agreed to do the short (operating budget £250) and six years later it gets spun out into a feature length film about assorted criminals and their respective ambitions to pocket a million-plus in cash.
In many ways this is by the numbers film-making, dealing with characters of a type we have largely seen too many times before, but there are stylistic elements and genuinely creative ideas that nonetheless elevate it above the pretty crowded genre territory in which it now finds itself. As each of the characters are introduced (with commendable economy, despite the excessive vulgarity) we get an inter-title giving us their name and the hard-boiled sweet they most closely resemble. Some have sniffed at this nifty little idea and although one man’s meat is another man’s poison, it does serve a useful purpose in sign-posting the characters’ propensities.
Once each of the seven or eight principals have been introduced the film settles down and although the swearing, sexual frankness and general unpleasantness of most of the characters makes it difficult to feel anything other than loathing, let alone anything close to sympathy for any of them, they are each undeniably characters in their own right, with their own reasons for wanting to get at the money. Hughes is clearly a capable director and there is a wholly refreshing degree of professionalism and care to the way in which the film has been shot and edited together. Too often at the bottom end of the budget spectrum (where this clearly lies) there is a troubling and frustrating tendency towards laziness and sloppiness and as alluded to earlier, Hughes raises this film above that trend.
It is to Hughes’ eternal credit that he has rounded up a cast that includes Freeman, Hart and others with a wealth of small and big screen experience. It means that the performances are able to paper over some of the shortcomings in the script (for example, towards the end crosses, double-crosses and shifted allegiances unfold in a pretty implausible and nigh-on incomprehensible manner) and draw a little more empathy from the audience towards some of the slightly less extreme characters, who in the hands of less capable actors would be so repulsive as to switch us off entirely. The action skips along pretty tightly, with no sense of drag and although the type of film and some of its content won’t be to everyone’s liking (it’s not really my bag, for what it’s worth), there is a lot here to admire for genre fans and Hughes seems to be someone to watch for the future.
Extras: All sorts. There is a candid and self-effacing featurette about how the short was made and developed into the feature length effort, there is the short film itself, so we can see how Hughes has progressed and a making-of, wherein Hughes shows his considerable efforts and aspirations. Although it is easy to poke fun at someone aiming for a blend of Michael Mann and film noir, it would be unfair and mean-spirited to do so. Hughes is clearly much admired by the cast he has assembled and seems to have been easy and enjoyable to work with and frankly the UK film industry needs film makers with high aspirations. A really interesting package.