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A lost gem...
on 18 July 2011
A forgotten movie, this is an overlooked gem of a film that has rightfully received some overdue recognition by Criterion (where would we be without them?!). The basic premise seems well trod by other more celebrated films, but the execution of this lifts it above the competition.
It is a British gangster film, and concerns a thug (played by Terrence Stamp) who has given evidence in court on other gangsters. He then runs before being tracked down and retrieved for his betrayal. The rest of the film plays out on the return journey, as the men prepare to execute him.
It is quickly identifiable as an 80s movie with the score but the sordid story and the supreme confidence with which it has been told, the central performances by Stamp, Tim Roth and John Hurt excell and the undercurrent of existential and moral conflicts ensure that style never outweighs substance.
Stephen Frears has been an underrated British talent and this is clearly one of his very finest films. It is gripping yet funny, fast moving yet dedicated to character and until the end you are left uncertain about motivations and outcome. It is essentially a gangster film but is never gratuitous and the material is handled with restraint. A real gem that deserves greater recognition.