I have to admit I’m a little confused about the British film industry at the moment, or at least the more commercial side of it. Currently we only seem to be able to produce wedding comedies and movies about irredeemable criminal assholes.
The Fall Of The Essex Boys fits squarely in the latter category, telling the true story of the run up to the Rettendon Triple Murders of three drug dealers in Essex in 1995. It’s a crime that seems to have a strange hold on some people as this is the fourth movie made about the events surrounding it, following Essex Boys, Rise of the Footsoldier and Bonded by Blood. Quite why this crime has created a mini industry of films, books and even merchandise is a bit of a mystery, because in the annals of murder, the demise of three impressively scummy drug dealers is amongst the least worth getting exercised about.
The film attempts to tell the true story of the run up to the murders of The Essex Boys, who are described as one of the most infamous criminal organisations in Britain since The Krays. Pat Tate, Tony Tucker and Craig Rolfe run a drug dealing empire. Their operation grows and with the police always one step behind them, they start to feel increasingly untouchable, able to kill those who piss them off and spread drugs across the country.
However while they may feel invulnerable, their lives begin spiralling out of control as they anger those around them and make enemies of other criminals. They also have DI Stone on their tail, who’s feeling extra pressure to get them after a girl falls into a coma when she takes a dodgy ecstasy pill. Initially though, it’s clear who’s side DI Stone is on.
When the Essex Boys plan a big operation that could take them to the next level, they may have bitten off more than even they can chew.
There’s nothing wrong with a good gangster movie, but too many of the recent efforts are essentially crime porn. The Fall Of The Essex Boys isn’t about redemption, the reasons people get involved in crime, and it’s only vaguely a cautionary tale. It pretty much just about revelling in the lives of scumbags and getting a vicarious thrill from murder, drug dealing, sex and violence. There are moments when the movie seems to have real admiration for the bravado and balls-to-the-walls attitude of the Essex Boys.
For example there’s a sequence where we’re shown one of the guys going ‘out of control’, such as shouting at his girlfriend after she catches him cheating on her, having copious amounts of sex, doing drugs and beating a pizza guy to a pulp. While we’re told he’s gone too far, the film treats it in an almost triumphal way, enjoying his violent hedonism.
Part of the problem may be due to the way the film is constructed. As with Paul Tanter’s previous movie, The Rise And Fall Of A White Collar Hooligan, the film often resorts to a rather overbearing voiceover. It uses it as a way of introducing things and then telling us what’s really going on, but it often feels as if we’re seeing a few scenes that wallow in the underworld, and then the actual main plot is simply told to us in voiceover rather than us seeing it.
It’s not like there’s anyone to really root for either. The possible good guys don’t reveal their true colours until the end, so for the majority of the time they seem almost as scummy as the Essex Boys themselves. Even DI Stone – whose goodness is signified by him tucking his kids up at night – could actually be bad. And either way, the possible goodies are rather sidelined and made to seem far less interesting than the criminals.
It would have also helped if the characters actually seemed like real people, but most of the time they simply shout at one another and run around gangster cliché world. I’ll admit I’m not an expert on what drug dealers and crime lords are like, but I find it tough to believe their entire existence is about shouting and treating even their best friends incredibly badly. I’m not suggesting it should be presenting them as saints, but as with many recent British gangster films, there’s something almost cartoonish about the way the criminals act. Indeed, the actors who play the Essex boys must have had an easy time learning the script, as about 90% of their dialogue is either, “[Insert name or pronoun here] is a c*nt,” or “Do you think I’m a c*nt?”
The boys can’t do anything – even order fast food – without threatening (or committing) bodily harm while saying the word ‘c*nt’ about 70 times. The film is admittedly about how they go out of control and no one wants anything to do with them anymore – even other criminals – but it’s tough to believe them as actual people. A willingness to literally do anything and having no morality whatsoever might help in the world of drugs, but I’m pretty sure that if you were as dumb as these guys you’d never get anywhere.
It’s not a dreadful movie and if you’re the sort of person who loves all things criminal, you’ll probably enjoy it. But if you’re hoping for some insight into the world of crime, you’d better look elsewhere. Likewise, if you enjoy films where pretty much everyone onscreen is a vile, unpleasant, immoral scumbag with no redeeming qualities, this will be right up your street, but if you want someone to root for, the film rather fails (it does give it a go towards the end, but it’s a bit late by then).
This really is gangster porn, and while I can imagine some people liking it, personally I like more from my crime flicks than revelling in scumminess and getting vicarious thrills from violence and murder. Even its credentials as the true story of the Rettendon Murders get a little murky towards the end, when it tries to twist things on the audience but ends up making you questions how much of what you’ve seen is genuinely true.
Overall Verdict: I don’t really get this sort of gangster porn that lionises the scummiest of scum while pretending it’s about their downfall, but if that’s your thing, The Fall Of The Essex Boys is a passable enough.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac