Receiving a January 23rd theatrical and DVD release is the British crime thriller Essex Heist, distributor 88 Films first foray into the production side of the business. 88 Films has been a formidable niche distributor of various horror and exploitation films primarily in the UK and Europe (minus hardcore collectors around the globe), as well as Essex Heist director Steve Lawson’s three most recent pictures (Killersaurus, The Hunting of Annie Dyer, and Footsoldier). It was a sound choice in selecting someone that has experience in making low budget pictures. The best options when it comes to making a profit on a low budget production are either horror or crime. With the popularity of what is known as geezer gangster films, it was inevitable that 88 Films would go this route on their first venture into producing.
The term basically means a British gangster and there has been an influx in these low budget gangster movies since the popularity of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, which includes Bonded by Blood, We Still Kill the Old Way, and Rise of the Footsoldier (all of which have sequels). They are essentially low budget crime pictures that tend to make a fairly decent profit. This one has an even lower budget than most of those others, coming in at around 100,000 Pounds. The end result is a rather effective micro budget version of the recent geezer gangster flicks that combines elements of those, Reservoir Dogs, and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels minus the comedy.
The story involves four low level gangsters that work at a chop shop for a local mob boss. An opportunity arises to rob the mob boss of a large sum of money, but things go south and the group’s trust and loyalty are called into question. The story is pretty much by the books, but there is a slight twist on the subgenre. The last half of the act is similar to the last act of Reservoir Dogs, which is where things really pick up and start to get interesting. The dialogue seems realistic to the situation and characters as much as I can tell, seeing as I’m not a British Gangster (although that it does look quite glamorous). There is a large amount of narration from the main character, which is reminiscent of Snatch and other gangster movies. It’s something that you’ll either find tedious or have no issues with.
Lawson’s directing is excellent, greatly making use of his experience with a minimal budget and the locations that he had available. There is decent camera placement and movement, some of which did a terrific job of creating tension. Most of the story takes place in the garage that the four gangsters work at, but there are several sequences that occur outside. The shots outside have nice color and most of the inside shots have good shadows. There are also some nice overhead establishing shots that were most likely acquired stock footage, which helps up the overall look of the production. The score features something that could be described as synth tech and it is rather enjoyable, at times it reminded me of the score from Attack the Block.
The acting is surprisingly first-rate for a low budget movie. You tend to expect a mixed bag of over and under acting, but Lawson has employed a group of actors that have extensive experience and all deliver admirable performances. Steven Dolton absolutely kills it as the mob boss Terry Slade, taking a turn away from typically playing the detective role. He should be a bad guy more often. Glen Savage does a superb job as the main character Jez, even if he comes of as being Jason Statham light. Dean Leon Finlan, Marcus Langford, and Adam Collins all do a fine job rounding out the group of gangsters, with Collins showing off some martial arts skills along the way.
It has all of the staples that you would come to expect in the crime genre; it has drugs, nudity, heists, violence, shootouts, a fight scene, and loads of bad guys. It is done on a shoestring budget, so there are some missteps and actions that are not shown on camera. Overall, this was an entertaining movie taking into consideration the budgetary constraints. If you’re a fan of crime films or the geezer gangster subgenre, then you will mostly likely enjoy this one.
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