Essex Boys

dir Terry Winsor
scr Jeff Pope, Terry Winsor
with Charlie Creed-Miles, Sean Bean, Alex Kingston, Tom Wilkinson, Larry Lamb, Michael McKell, George Jackson, Holly Davidson, Amelia Lowdell, Terence Rigby, Sally Hurst, Gary Love
Granada 00/UK 3 out of 5 stars

Review by Rich Cline
Loosely based on a true story, Essex Boys is a strong, stylish, brutal British crime drama about shifting alliances, plots, counterplots and power. It's not remotely easy to watch as the characters grapple with each other (from the opening titles you know at least three of them won't survive). But the characters and performances are fascinating, and the story keeps us right on the edge from the start.

Our narrator is Billy (Creed-Miles), a young cabbie who gets a job driving for the recently released ex-con Jason (Bean), back home and ready to take up where he left off five years earlier. And Jason has more than a chip on his shoulder; he's sure his tough-minded wife (Kingston) has been unfaithful and he's furious that his partners in crime (Lamb and McKell) have grown rich while he was locked away. Billy's driving skills make him indispensable, and finding his niche draws him in deeper. But the increasing violence starts to get to him, especially when a local smuggler (Wilkinson) with a grudge gets involved. Power struggles ensue on every level imaginable--crime, business, money, sex, friendships.

The story's twists and turns are brilliantly handled by the filmmaker without gimmicks or red herrings--these people all think they're in control of their destiny ... and of everyone around them. Creed-Miles is excellent as the innocent trying to look tough and worldly wise--a perfect character to identify with as we descend into this dark, grim, violent world. Bean, Wilkinson and especially Kingston also deliver marvellously layered performances that let us briefly glimpse the insecurities beneath the bravado. The script and direction are also solid, with clever touches both thematically and visually. There's not much in the way of comic relief here--the film is relentlessly dark, building horrifically in an edgy, sharp way that keeps you both watching and ready to cover your eyes when it gets grisly. And ultimately, when the film declares the true winner, it also brilliantly shows what a hollow victory it is.

[18--strong adult themes and situations, violence, nudity, language] 21.Jun.00
UK release 14.Jul.00

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"I thought it was fantastic. Bean was excellent as usual, and the story was so unpredictable it kept you interested the whole way through. The script was the most impressive; I thought it captured the exact right moments for violence to erupt, and also portrayed well how real people speak, and not how some actor should speak, a fault many films have. Well worth a watch." --Gareth, Grimsby 29.Jan.01

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall