When his brother is killed by a teenage gang, a retired East End mobster gathers his old crew to settle the score.
Normally I’d go into more detail here, but that’s pretty much the entire concept. It’s a battle of old versus new, hoodies versus suits, respect versus modernity.
Obviously this film rests on two popular cultural ideas – that modern London is filled with feral gangs with no spark of humanity, and that old-school mobsters had a touch of nobility about them. I take issue with both of these.
I’m sure that some truly vile people currently rung gangs in London, but the extent to which this film shows them as ubiquitous and irredeemable smacks of rampant classism and moral panic. Likewise, I know enough about the Krays to know that London gangsters have always been vicious and small-minded, instead of knights in tarnished armour.
With that said, once you suspend disbelief in the premise, this film is quite watchable. The elderly gangsters are all avuncular and charming, even when killing people. The plot hangs together and flows quite smoothly. The cinematography is basic but competent. It’s all fine. I quite enjoy the elderly-mobster aesthetic, and there’s a pleasing catharsis to seeing the evil gang destroyed by twinkly-eyed seniors. The film walks the line between gritty and comedic, managing to marry the two almost all of the time.
One aspect did wreck it for me though. There’s a supposedly-romantic sub-plot between a gang victim and a gang member; you’re meant to empathise with the star-crossed couple, and find their slow fumblings towards a relationship endearing. This doesn’t work. The gang member in question is supposed to be sympathetic because, unlike the other gang members, he’s not sure if he wants to rape someone (the afore-mentioned victim) or not.
That’s not a sympathetic characteristic. Call me a stickler, but I ask for more than “doesn’t particularly feel like sexual assault right now” from my heroes. It’s an early scene, and it’s only the focus for a brief space, but the fact that the film treats his behaviour as praiseworthy, and his gang involvement as immediately forgiven, does not sit well with me. It’s hard, when watching the rest of the film, to forget that everyone involved in making it saw that as acceptable; it’s indicative of some truly disturbing attitudes/beliefs, and left a bad taste in my mouth throughout the film.
This is a film about how nice, old-fashioned bad people are needed to kill new bad people. That’s a common concept and has led to all sorts of interesting works. It’s not a bad example of the genre, and in places it is quite fun. In the end though, I didn’t like this film and can’t recommend it – not because of its quality, but because the unintended moral message makes my skin crawl. If you’re looking for a poacher-turned-gamekeeper film which doesn’t have a side order of “it’s morally good to be ambivalent about rape”, might I suggest The Magnificent Seven?