Thanks to Crimewatch feeding us blurred CCTV images of kids beating innocent Sudoku-ers with planks of wood, Britain is having nightmares. Nick Love, director of The Business, also seems scared. But he’s no pussy. And with the law being a total arse, he posits a country where we don’t just sit there and count the bruises. He posits a country full of Outlaws.
Taking its title from the gang of vigilantes on whom its plot focuses, the director’s fourth film shows Britain ’07 at its very worst. From road rage and stabbings to corrupt coppers and a deeply troubled foreign war, panarchy has gripped the UK. Coming together under the shared banner of ‘Pissed Off’, returning soldier Bryant (Sean Bean), widowed barrister Cedric (Lennie James), security guard Simon (Sean Harris), posh kid Sandy (Rupert Friend) and office boy Gene (Danny Dyer, natch) seek out those who’ve done them wrong, so they can dish out revenge in return.
Leaving aside the first-base thinking behind a land full of thieves, where everyone can stab each other in the back, Outlaw suffers severely by assuming some sort of equivalence between the assorted gripes of its lead characters. On the one hand there’s Cedric, whose pregnant wife has just been murdered by a crime boss he was prosecuting. Truly shocking. On the other, there’s Gene – a victim of mild road rage. When disgruntled cop Bob Hoskins offers to feed the gang details of “paedophiles, dealers, bullies, junkies” many, many viewers will nod along. But when he opens it up a tad with “...and cunts!”, the focus vanishes. The men who kitchen-knifed an expectant mother in the stomach? On the same slate as some fella at work who annoys Gene.
Outlaw tries desperately to have a point, to thrash out an agenda. And by soundtracking the film’s bloody violence with the exciting, energised pulse he mastered in The Football Factory, Love showcases a winning knack for white-knuckle cinema – even if its most likely effect is to get thugs all riled, itching to break some bones. Irresponsible, then, but the tabloids are hardly likely to kick up a fuss. This is eye-for-an-eye naming and shaming, their bread and butter. It’s a fatal concoction of volatility.
“You’re a real philistine sometimes,” smiles Bryant at Simon as the latter adds Muslims to his target wish-list. Such a jibe is like saying Oswald Mosley was a bit of a fascist, but only on Tuesdays. In Outlaw, though, these men are the heroes, picking up the dropped bobby-baton and putting it to use as their own beating stick. Philistine is perhaps too kind a word.