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April 3, 2015
One genre that Britain has really made its mark on is the gangster film, with classics like Brighton Rock (2010) and Sexy Beast (2000), and edgy indies like Dead Men’s Shoes (2004). Our cinema has never shied away from the kind of social realism that shows the grime and bleakness of hard drugs and gang violence.
So I approached London-set comedy-thriller Hackney’s Finest with some expectations. What would it be: Trainspotting (1996) meets Eastern Promises (2007)? Not quite. With a cast of bit-part actors, a shoddy script and weak direction, this latest crowd-funded zero budget gangster movie is nobody’s finest – by a long shot.
The film is about a bunch of lovable heroin users and dealers. Yes, you heard me, lovable heroin dealers. Except they’re not that at all, they’re quite loathsome and even worse, extremely boring.
Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting introduced the world to a ragtag crew of junkies, making Renton, Sick Boy and their bunch of losers funny and, improbably, lovable in their own way. But Hackney’s Finest is not funny at all, despite being billed as a comedy thriller. To be funny, the script has to be funny, but the humour here just doesn’t work.
The film wants to be, in the words of the director “grounded in reality,” but apart from having a lo-fi look that one associates with a cheap mobile phone camera, it is too cartoonish to be realistic, but not snappy or witty enough to be properly cartoonish.
For one thing, it’s full of ridiculous and borderline racist stereotypes: Jamaican drug dealers, mysterious dodgy Afghans, a born-again Christian cop and psychotic Russians. Our “hero,” of course, is a white geezer. Throw in the blonde girlfriend who goes off in a strop early on in the film.
The English characters are mostly extremely racist, and the rest are all boilerplate stereotypes. None of these characters are developed in any way whatsoever. As a result, it’s impossible to care about them or even take any interest in what happens to them.
They are not even entertaining. The violence is gratuitous because it is desperately making up for lack of character and plot. Whereas Gangster No. 1 (2000) was massively violent for a purpose, this is just unpleasant.
Every bad film starts with a bad script and Hackney’s Finest is no exception. It never stood a chance, poor duck. The script, penned by Thorin Seex, is an absolutely appalling waste of words. Imagine that: a London gangster movie completely without a single witty line.
It tramples on the fine tradition established by Guy Ritchie, in the still funny Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998). According to the director, Thorin Seex is a former Hackney squatter who “knew a hell of a lot about hard drugs,” but on the strength of this film one would really have to question this claim of “insider knowledge.”
Director Chris Bouchard’s previous directing credits include only short films like The Hunt For Gollum (2009), a special effects-laden internet viral which you can find on youtube. He is out of his depth at his feature debut here, lumbered with a poor script and, one surmises, no real grasp of the kind of film he is trying to make.
Claiming that he “wanted to use lesser known or unknown actors” because “there’s so much raw undiscovered talent out there,” Bouchard seems to forget that raw talent needs to be carefully treated otherwise it goes off and starts to stink. The performances are terrible, but the characters are one-dimensional in the first place.
Does Hackney’s Finest have any redeeming features? Certainly the protagonist, Sirus [sic] played by former X-factor contestant Nathanael Wiseman, actually does bring a note of realism to the project.
His doughy, pasty face really does look like it’s whacked out on heroin most of the time, as his lack of expression imitates a junkie’s affect-less nod. Whether that is intentional is a moot point, because it’s impossible to empathize with Sirus and his heroin shenanigans. The same goes for Rajan Sharma as drugged-up Afghan Asif.
During the film, people in the audience kept leaving. Afterwards I overheard those who stayed saying to their friends “Well I stayed because I thought you wanted to.” “No, I stayed because I thought YOU wanted to.”
Clearly nobody wanted to stay and see it out. Hackney’s Finest is a stupid, badly made film in the tradition of other unwatchable films like the gratefully long-forgotten Rancid Aluminium (2000).
Is this all the British low-budget genre film has to offer these days? Surely not. Interestingly, after I wrote this review I stepped outside and saw a massive police raid on a flat right here in Hackney. With machine guns and everything. Drugs? Terrorism? Both? It goes to show that surely there are interesting stories to tell about the East End’s scary subcultures, but Hackney’s Finest is not one of them.
Hackney’s Finest is released in UK cinemas on April 3rd