Reviled by a considerable number of UK film critics, Julian Gilbey's RISE OF THE FOOTSOLDIER is actually one of the best British crime flicks since THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY. There's a scene right at the beginning which serves as a striking declaration of intent for what lies ahead, as we see three shotgun-blasted bodies lying in the morgue. Suddenly, a mobile phone on a nearby table begins to ring and the answer machine kicks in to reveal a shaky voice exhorting the owner of the phone to return the call. The voice belongs to one Carlton Leach; a nervous man in a four thousand dollar room who is beginning to fear for the safety of his pals. Later on, we get to see him make that phone call, but there's an awful lot of blood to flow under the bridge before we reach that point. Gilbey's film builds on this thoroughly downbeat opening, moving like an express train through three decades, as a cast of wholly unlikeable individuals are steered by top-notch performances. Ricci Harnett is chillingly convincing as Leach, while Roland Manookian, Terry Stone and Craig Fairbrass are just as good in their portrayals of the murdered trio: Craig Rolfe, Tony Tucker and Pat Tate. Add Bill Murray as Essex drug smuggler Mickey Steele, Frank Harper, Neil Maskell and talented females such as Emily Beecham (28 WEEKS LATER) + Laura Beaumont (THE WAR ZONE) and you have a cast that's ready, willing and able to carry off a very demanding script. A good number of the cast will be familiar to those of you who caught THE FOOTBALL FACTORY, and they're tailor-made for this graphic foray into the frightening world of organised crime. While the characters they portray are odious and terrifying in the extreme, Gilbey does go some way towards compelling us to root for them at certain points in the film; particularly during a horrific torture scene where Turkish gangsters inflict appalling injuries on Leach's colleagues in an attempt to discover exactly who was responsible for a missing case of heroin valued at £10million. It's no mean feat to elicit sundry feelings of sympathy for such a worthless bunch, but Gilbey takes us there, while never losing sight of the fact that their actions and way of life spell danger for even the innocent members of society. It could be argued that the involvement of foreign gangsters invading 'home turf' places the likes of Carlton Leach in a slightly different light, and it's not too hard to see why he could be viewed as the lesser of two great evils and become a legend. Go back to the time of the Kray Brothers who were romanticised by many people for different reasons: sure, they helped the old and the poor with hard cash and there were very few rapes or child molestations on their manor (crimes the brothers took great exception to), but look at the other side of the coin and you'll see a world of fear and pain. Here, the violence meted out is probably the most graphic of any British feature: vicious fights on tube trains as football hooligans battle it out; scenes of torture involving stabbings, graphic bodily abuse (flesh-biting, anyone?) and extreme beatings (look out for a bloody one-man war against the fast-food industry, which starts out funny and ends up in hell) are often the order of the day. That little lot has been accused of glamorising violence by learned film critics, but there isn't a moment of glamour in the entire film. Even relationships with beautiful women are tense and largely unfeeling, prompting one to question why the hell they stay with these men? Sorry, but I couldn't find any glamour in a moody undercurrent of simmering violence which frequently erupts, slamming you into the ropes and onto the canvas. These are people you never want to encounter but, in order for their stories to have a high degree of accuracy, it's necessary to show the kind of things that went down. If this film is a bit too close for comfort, Carlton Leach has gone on record as saying that the actual events he witnessed and took part in were even bloodier!
I'll be taking a look at the 2 disc DVD release later this week, but it's worth a reminder here that the two men imprisoned for the Rettendon Land Rover Murders may well be innocent. Could those responsible be Turkish gangsters, local drugs rivals or even the 'Old Bill' who possibly organised the murders with the hope that three of the thorns in their side would be out of the picture? One day, we may learn the truth but for now, RISE OF THE FOOTSOLDIER exists as an extreme record of the evil that men do, and as a sombre warning to anyone who may be close to sliding down the same slippery slope.