Gabe Turner’s (director – In the Hands of The Gods and The Class of ’92) entry into the British hooligan thriller genre, The Guvnors, opens with old-hand, Mitch (Doug Allen), facing down up-start, Adam (Rizzle Kick’s Harvey Sylvester). It feels like we’ve just stumbled into the room midway through the confrontation, and it turns out we have . . .
Flashback a month and Sylvester’s Adam is storming around an East London estate, intimidating the residents and being an all-round bully; a bully who dreams of making it big. Unhappy that his crew haven’t quite made the impact he desires, he seeks out Mitch, ex-leader of the fearsome gang The Guvnors, turned upstanding family man. In his effort to take Adam down, Mitch is forced to confront his past and some uncomfortable memories resurface as he regresses further and further back to his violent ways.
And there we have it, a by-the-numbers gangland thriller plot. But there’s more to the film than that. Turner takes an interesting approach to the build-up of this generational clash. It takes a good hour for us to catch up with the opening scene and this first section sees the film at its best. We follow Mitch and Adam on their own until this point, which creates a clear sense of the two forces at play. We witness Mitch’s dark past painfully forced behind his big city businessman façade and it’s only a matter of time before it bursts out. So what a surprising treat when it does. Turner opts out of the stereotypes and portrays The Guvnors as a family; a twisted and violent family, but a family nonetheless.
These scenes are a lot of fun and the old gang are witty and self-aware, whilst remaining fiercely and admirably loyal. Which is a stark contrast to Adam’s yoofs. Sylvester gobs, gurns and sniffles his way through the film, being thoroughly unlikable. Which really stands out against Allen’s far more nuanced, and all together more effective, performance. Let’s just say it’s a relief to finally see Adam get the beating he deserves.
So, a somewhat mixed bag from Turner on the narrative side, but there’s one department where he really shines; his direction. He shows real visual flare and his camera control is deftly assured. He frames scene after scene exquisitely, belying both the genre and the budget. I even saw echoes of Michael Mann in his slicked back version of London. One shot really shines as a gang stand shoulder to shoulder, as if waiting for kick-off. It’s an excellent piece of imagery, and it’s the closest the film really gets to addressing the importance of football in the heritage of these gangs.
So what a shame for the whole thing to fall back on stereotypes when we finally make it back to that opening stand-off. A ludicrous, and totally unnecessary twist starts the ball rolling and it’s all downhill from there. This beating leads to this impassioned speech, which is countered with this arrest, all culminating in a great big punch up as The Guvnors are revealed to be the thugs they truly are.
Any progressive genre elements are lost in the mayhem . . . until the final scene. As Mitch’s son strides towards Adam’s younger brother, we are left with the sickening feeling that the violence may continue. Yet, there still lingers a flicker of hope that these two kids may finally be the ones to turn the corner.
This scene is as thoughtful as anything in the preceding 90-minutes and it stands as proof that Turner has a really great future ahead of him, if only he would turn away from genre conventions once and for all. He gets close with The Guvnors, really close, but he seems almost wary of letting go of his past . . . just like Mitch, then.
This review was originally written for Close-Up Film and the film is out now on DVD and VOD, in the UK.