These days, British crime films are ten a penny. As oversaturated as the video horror market is in the States, the same can be said for gangster pictures in the UK. And let's face it, the vast majority are inept, creatively bankrupt cash-ins on an appetite for guns and drugs with a generous slice of Cockney, as kick-started by Guy Richie with LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS nearly fifteen years ago. TRIADS, YARDEES AND ONION BHAJEES, THE BIG I AM and CASH AND CURRY are just three examples of the home-grown genre dross we've had to endure over the last couple of years.
As film fans, one thing that keeps up going when it comes to said genre dross is the pursuit of the light at the end of the cinematic tunnel. We dig through plenty of mud in the hope that we uncover a fat truffle, and long for that blue moon to rise and drop a highly enjoyable, very entertaining movie into our laps.
Thanks to writer/director David L.G. Hughes and his cast and crew, we have HARD BOILED SWEETS, a low-budget crime indie distributed by Universal Pictures that packs a punch like a mint humbug dipped in chilli sauce.
Welcome to the dark side of Southend-on-Sea, where silver crosses the palms of prostitutes rather than clinks into slot machines, men go for an evening swim chained to a weight with the pier as their diving board, and a motley crew of gangsters is about to come in contact with £1,000,000.
Southend is the backyard of Shrewd Eddie, the most feared and influential criminal to reign over the area, but he proves to be a little fish in a big pond when his boss, Jimmy the Gent, makes his way to the seaside town to collect £250,000 worth of dirty money. A huge amount of cash to most, but not to the Gent (a contrarian nickname if there ever was one), who carries a briefcase with him at all times, no matter what, that contains £750,000. It's no secret that these two authority figures of the local underworld are about to meet and there are people who intend on getting in on the action, from crooks who simply want to get rich quick, to those who want an escape from their unlawful existences.
The characters are given non-diegetic nicknames by way of intertitles and actual hard boiled sweets represent the different personalities of the characters. Although they bear no impact on the narrative and it's more or less a gimmick, the sugarcoated nicknames serve as an inventive way to ramp up the film's style. There may not be much sweetness harboured by these characters, but hard boiled they certainly are, whether it's from a life of crime or the result of being subjected to living with a notorious villain.
It was the intention of Hughes to write a story for the screen that folks like Elmore Leonard would conjure up for a novel if they found themselves somewhere in Southend with a pen and a spiral notebook. A long shot perhaps, but Hughes has managed to pull it off. The story is simple in itself, leaving enough breathing space for the characters to bloom, ensuring the twists and turns remain unpredictable throughout in this treacherous tale of blood and money.
HARD BOILED SWEETS is the best British crime film I've seen in years. It's BRIGHTON ROCK by way of Guy Richie and Quentin Tarantino, and ultimately the stylish realisation of a sharp, darkly humorous script from a fresh film-maker with bright ideas and a brighter future.
The film opens theatrically on limited release on March 9.
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