After premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2015, The Hard Stop comes to UK cinemas and brings with it an unflinching and sharp look at the circumstances surrounding the shooting of Mark Duggan, and the people and communities affected.
Duggan was shot and killed on August 4th 2011 by a police officer in Tottenham. Duggan was being investigated by Operation Trident and officers believed that he was in possession of a gun and was on his way to commit a murder. His death sparked protests and ultimately rioting across the UK, as well as an investigation into whether or not the killing was lawful. Despite being named after the controversial police tactic that was used against Duggan, George Amponsah’s insightful documentary is not as interested in dissecting Duggan’s shooting as it is concerned with examining the human consequences of the incident and incidents like it. With this aim it follows Marcus Knox-Hooke and Kurtis Henville, lifelong friends of Duggan’s, as they each come to terms with life in the shadow of the shooting and the resulting inquest.
What the film presents is a picture of utter futility, from the cycle of police violence to Henville’s search for a job. The estate where Duggan and his friends grew up, Broadwater Farm, has seen police violence and deaths and is shown to be isolated from and abandoned by wider society. Knox-Hooke and Henville believe that there is a vendetta between the police and the residents of ‘The Farm’ for the death of PC Blakelock in 1985, itself the result of two accidental deaths of black Londoners, yet there are attempts by the film to balance the argument. Both men admit criminal pasts and Knox-Hooke appears in the documentary before and after a prison sentence for his part in the riots. There is a constant stream of anti-police and pro-Mark Duggan rap music and Amponsah is willing to show Broadwater Farm as a volatile, violent place even without the presence of police.
This portrayal of disillusioned, angry young men is not where The Hard Stop hit its stride; the film’s strongest suit is rather its examination of the mundane, human portions of their lives. While looking for a job, Henville is full of boyish confidence and humour, driving around London and hijacking Wi-Fi connections from Carphone Warehouse in order to use the internet. Knox-Hooke starts working with young children from deprived areas, including Duggan’s son, to continue their education and improve their future prospects. In doing so he wrestles with his preconceptions of policemen when he meets a former officer who is running a similar youth scheme. These personal and revealing moments offer much more insight into the effects of Duggan’s death, than the nationwide story of the inquest which, predictably, rules in favour of the police.
The Hard Stop is an accomplished and hard-fought documentary that paints a bleak picture of inner-city life, and given the current political climate, is a rare and timely insight into the persistent buzzing of racial tensions between the police and urban black populations.
Words by Fraser Kay