There’s a moment in Original Gangster where the film’s drunken, homeless protagonist, Castor (Alex Mills), is sucking down booze while sitting atop a tomb in a cemetery. It’s not a respectful sight but he’s not harming anyone. A grieving woman pulls into focus from the background and begins giving Castor a hard time. Stating how he should be more respectful to the dead. She then shifts the conversation onto the #MeToo movement and how the white male privileged world is on the way out. The scene ends with Castor smacking the mourner in the face. As a movie lover, I do not need my movies to side with my politics. Films would be boring if they did so. What will always irritate however is cheap transparency.
The egregious scene (along with a few other moments) is not bad because I am offended by the film’s skewed view on women (or younger people for that matter). The scene is bad because it’s so poorly executed that the sequence feels less like an organic moment within the film’s story, and more like a lazy external rant aimed at the “snowflake” generation.
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A second scene involving a character named Milo (Ian Reddington), lamenting Castor and victimhood only seems to confirm this. Milo saves the young Castor’s life in the film’s opening scene. However, this is only after Milo hesitates to kill the boy after slaying his parents in front of him in cold blood. Castor is a victim. However, ten years after such a traumatic event, he should have just got over it. Such a snowflake.
Original Gangster often slows down to a snail’s pace to have a character deliver an extended monologue which feels more like a behind the scenes chip on the shoulder as opposed to a character’s world view. It is a frustrating feature of a crime film with little ideas. The idea of a young orphan growing up under the tutelage of a flawed older criminal is not a bad idea, and British film is full of independent crime gems. Original Gangster however is an unfortunate slog of a movie that buries its audience in an avalanche of genre cliché and inconsistency.
It is a film which makes comment on trans rights for no other reason than the fact that is a hot button topic. Having characters who hold retrograde social politics is not an issue if the characters or their underworld are engaging, but Original Gangster’s narrative is not particularly interesting, and certain creative decisions are just simply badly implicated. If a character is narrating that they are watching someone die and “seeing the soul leave their body” it may be worth having the character do that in the scene and not have them walk away while that narration occurs.
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Snarky comments aside, Original Gangster is more of a struggle to watch as it is simply not that well executed. Its dramatic tension suffers from many of the film’s visual and editing decisions. Working on a lower budget of course means limitations, however, the film does little to address weak editing rhythms and transitions, poorly lit scenes, and awkward character dynamics. It’s cute to see Steve Guttenberg hamming it up like some well-cured gammon, I would however have rather a lesser-known actor if it allowed some of the film’s technical weaknesses to be fixed up.
This type of lower-rent crime film does have an audience and no doubt Original Gangster will find itself its fans. But in a world where films such as Gerard Johnson’s Hyena (2014) delivers a stronger hit of grubby British crime, while the likes of S. Craig Zahler can create seductive yet problematic thrillers in his sleep, one suggests giving those examples some favour.
Original Gangster is out on DVD and Digital Download on 5th April from Saints & Savages.