Starring: Ian Ogilvy, Billy Murray, Christopher Ellison, Tony Denham, Julian Glover, Lysette Anthony, Patrick Bergin,
Director: Sacha Bennett
British Gangster films are really becoming their own b-list genre, a kind of self indulgent offshoot of more mature films. Snatch and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels made the London underbelly feel fresh, the local con artist and desperate underclass feel vital and aspirational. But while Guy Ritchie has moved on to bigger and arguably better things, the genre has not. (Interesting to note that his British lead characters have been upperclass, wealthy detectives and next up, a mythical monarch, as his career progresses, is he moving through the British social strata?)
The thing with film though, is that as much as some of us might turn our noses up at certain genres as being what a friend recently called “low brow”, it’s so often in those films that are made for the “Great Unwashed” that we see a certain insight into the minds and experience of another person, of a larger part of the population in fact. It’s something that my lecturer at university used to say a lot, that all film experience is legitimate, we are not better than anyone based on the films we like, and to ignore what people are enjoying is to ignore part of another’s life experience. My point here is not that these films aren’t classy but that they are so much about class, and the desperation of that class, that they have some really interesting points to make.
To loop back, many cookie cutter, low budget films have tried to capture the essence of the genre, and to recapture that sparkle and the wit the genre once had. And if you’ve spent any time in this genre, you would have come across the films that bear Johnathan Sothcott’s name. A producer of many films, a veritable powerhouse of his chosen genre, his latest outing is We Still Steal The Old Way. In it, we reconnect with the Archer gang, a group of retired gangsters who returned to the job in a previous film when one of their member was murdered by a younger group of hoods. The message is that whilst they were the bad guys, the younger generation of hoodies are savages.
Interestingly, in this film and the previous one, the Kray twins are often casually referenced. In London, the Kray twins were revered like Bonnie and Clyde or Robin Hood. It’s not that they didn’t do bad things, but rather that they symbolise the only kind of success available to the underclass, since upward mobility was not a possibility at that time. It’s interesting to note that this film, though set largely in a prison, as a bookend story about robbing from Sir Edward, who is the head of a bank and is robbing the little guy, that is, the upper class is very much keeping the working classes and the little guy in their place.
Perhaps the difference in this film is that the main characters are all a bit older. They’re retirement age men, who long for family and who care about their adult children. They often have to prove that they still have it, that they’re capable, and the jokes often revolve around aching joints and the glorious past. Here they take on the classic prison break plot, deliberately getting caught breaking into a bank so that they can go to prison, and break out an old colleague. That colleagues wife has Alzheimers Disease, which is a novel addition to a gangster film. Thrown into this mix is an old rival who wants revenge on the Archer boys and will stop at nothing to get it. Can they carry out their break in time?
There is such a big preoccupation with class in Britain, and as an outsider sometimes these British Gangster films can feel a little tired. They tend to paint the upper classes as evil and grasping, and themselves as victims of the system, which as a person from the New World with philosophies of personal responsibility and endless possibility… well, it feels rather like it keeps people in place, representing over and over that there’s no way to get ahead, that what’s happening to you is not your fault. There’s nothing you can do. But to hesitate with that thought for a moment, you soon realise that these films are the flipside of social realism like Secrets & Lies, or others of the Mike Leigh canon. Whilst you can watch those films to see how real people live and the struggles of the everyman, you watch these films for the myths that those people live by, the stories of the Kray twins and the good ol days, for example. Or for someone succeeding by breaking the rules that bind the rest of us.
OK, so the film is legitimate, but is it any good? Well, it is kind of fun. The main characters in the Archer gang are quite sweet and it’s funny to watch them take on a younger man’s game. I noticed that the older generation in the audience were having a real laugh down in the front row. Essentially it’s not a great film, it doesn’t break any new ground, but it’s less violent than the previous film. As far as gangster films go, the plot feels kind of simple, and it all lacks menace, possibly because of the age of everyone involved. But there is something at the heart of this film. It never really goes into thriller territory, but it feels like the guys have all learned a lot about life between their gangster days and the present, and that’s quite interesting too. It’s a clunky film at times, maybe a little cheesey, but at the same time, I think if you like the British Gangster genre, you’ll probably like this too. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
See It If: fans of the previous film, will like this, British film and gangster film fans, right up your alley. Also take note, there is a third installment coming soon…