Hot on the heels of reviewing Robot and Frank, which just so happens to be the best film I’ve seen this year, I was tasked to review The Fall of the Essex Boys, which just so happens to be the worst film I’ve seen this year. Isn’t that funny?
The plot stems from actual events, in much the same way a turd stems from actual food. The film is based on the 1995 Rettendon Murders, a notorious case of triple homicide wherein three drug dealers (let’s call them The Bell-ends) were mysteriously executed in a range rover parked on an isolated country lane. Do not be deceived by how interesting that sounds. The murders only serve to provide the filmmakers with a pre-prepared, gift-wrapped ending which they simply duct-tape to collection a clichéd, poor-scripted, abysmally-acted scenes of rote cockney thuggery.
Tediously aggressive and aggressively tedious, navigating the film’s unfocused and ugly plot is like slowly chewing your way through a beehive. Except there’s no honey, and the bees keep calling you a “soppy c**t”. It’s scum-sploitation from brain to bollocks, serving up nonstop nasty, all without any theme, moral or central idea; it’s just a celebration of nastiness.
You could argue that it’s a “crime doesn’t pay” story, but that doesn’t wash. The majority of the film follows The Bell-ends as they do various horrible things, often shot to make the thugs look cool and without a character present to be disgusted by it, which makes me wonder if this film actually disapproves of these actions at all. These moments of violence are the most visually interesting thing in the whole vapid feature and are the scenes most likely to appeal to the film’s target audience. This is a terrifying thing.
Sure, The Bell-ends get offed at the end, but you never find out why. The entire purpose of the film is supposed to be built around around revealing the secret history of what happened that fateful night and why, but the film ends with “random masked men did it, so we’ll never know.” Is that justice? How exactly are the Essex boys falling, because apart from this one mystery event – which could have happened for any reason – crime seemed to be paying plenty. Breaking a fellow’s face open for daring to use a posh word like ‘bespoke’ is made to look like a right old laugh.
This is all making me out to look like an snobbish hooligan-hater who eats cricket and shits privilege. While it’s true that I’m rather partial to not being a total dick to people, I actually like british gangster flicks. Snatch is one of my favourite films, made with infinitely more style and charm than this witless tosh. I’m not adverse to bad dudes doing bad things. I’m adverse to bad storytelling, and in this regard, The Fall of the Essex Boys is functionally broken.
For starters, who’s the main character? I know who the screenwriters think is the main character, but he barely appears in the first half of the movie. Instead the story flits from subplot to subplot never gaining any momentum, leaving us confused over which cliché-burdened character to invest it.
Maybe it’s the honest cop with a wife and daughter? He’s appearing a lot. But no, he’s not really doing anything, just looking glum and reacting to stuff.
Maybe it’s the honourable older gangster, having an affair with one of The Bell-ends’ girlfriends. He seems caring, he’s around a lot and he’s trying to “get out of the life”. Seems like a protagonist’s arc – no wait… He’s just become the big bad?! When did that happen?
The film spends most of the time following The Bell-ends, again NOT through a protagonist’s eyes. Just us watching The Bell-ends visiting violence on people who don’t deserve it, calling people “c**ts” and giggling about it like 12 yr-olds.
Turns out the main character’s a guy called Darren Something. Apparently he’s undercover, which he seems to be really good at because I forgot he was in the fucking movie. By the end of it he’s pretty much only rendered the main character by default because everyone else is dead or banged up.
Well that’s not entirely true, because throughout the film Darren also provides The Worst Voiceover In Cinema. That’s not hyperbole. It’s almost a character in and of itself, written with all the cloth-eared, alpha-male non-irony of a GCSE student and delivered with all the unconvincing bravado of a librarian reading Danny Dyer’s autobiography at gunpoint. The voiceover couldn’t be worse if they taped the recording mic to a pig and chased it around a farmyard. It practically breaks the movie.
In short, The Fall of the Essex Boys is a confused, confusing, unfocused mess, devoid of a single solitary scrap of charm or original thought. It doesn’t even stand out on the merit of its ‘based on actual events’ claim. This is the fourth film about the Rettendon Murders after Essex Boys (2000), Rise of the Footsoldier (2007) and Bonded by Blood (2010), rendering the whole enterprise pretty much worthless. Don’t see it, please.
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