Do you remember Ritchiemania? There was a time, nearly 20 years ago (seriously!) that the Guy Ritchie brand of cheeky Cockney crime caper successfully rejuvenated the British gangster genre and had the world spellbound – and for good reason.
Hackney’s Finest is clearly in awe of that cinematic moment. But while Lock, Stock and Snatch were a ‘Cool Britannia’ riff on Tarantino’s alternate dimension America, director Chris Bouchard’s first full length feature trades in on the infamous reputation of a real London borough, right down to a cringey namecheck in the final line. In part it’s an exaggerated reflection of writer Thorin Seex’s own observations of Hackney’s grittier side, but shot through with an endearingly silly vibe.
Things kick off promisingly enough; local smack dealer and all round reckless geezer Sirus (Nathanael Wiseman) has got himself a nice gig working in a cabbie’s office and dealing on the side (note: Hackney’s Finest gleefully treats drug abuse with all the gravity of having a Mars bar).
But things go pear-shaped when vengeful copper Priestley (played with snarling relish by Arin Alldridge) hatches a plot to stitch up our dozey hero. Holed up in a deserted warehouse in Tilbury Docks with two Welsh-Jamaican arms dealers (Enoch Frost and Marlon G. Day grappling with some truly ridiculous patois), an Afghan smackhead and his moody/deadly sister, Sirus and co. find themselves under siege from the bent feds and their private army of druggedup Russian gangsters with a fondness for European techno. Needless to say, a night of mayhem swiftly unfolds, all delivered with a knowing nod and wink.
For a low budget indie movie, Hackney’s Finest is a hell of a looker. Bouchard worked with Soho’s Framestore, the digital studio that put the fairy dust into Alfonso Cuaron’s Oscar gobbling Gravity, and the results are frequently stunning. There’s a slick, crisp look to the whole affair that belies its homegrown roots, backed up by some nice moments of cinematography and punchy editing.
Sadly though, all the polishing in the world can’t rescue what, at heart, is a paint-by-numbers gangster knockabout that starts to drag far too early. On one level, Hackney’s Finest’s cast of 2D stereotypes is something of a love letter to multicultural London, but the substituting of real characters for bombastic accents soon starts to grate. It’s all a bit Borat, without the intelligence.
Then again, there’s really no point in getting po-faced about a film like this; it knows exactly what it is, and has no delusions otherwise. Bear this in mind and there’s a fair bit of fun to be had, from the gorgeous visuals to gunfights galore and a smattering of humorous dialogue. Just don’t be expecting Lock, Stock for a new generation.
Hackney’s Finest is released on 3 April