Starring Sean Bean
Nick Love’s track record (The Football Factory, The Business) and the poster for Outlaw, with Sean Bean’s hard face staring out at you, feeds expectation. You think, “I could write this review blindfold – GBH, laddish banter, tough tarts for tit tease and a bad boy attitude that apes Hollywood without buying into the Mafia bollocks.”
You would be so wrong.
Outlaw may have a well known and, thanks to Michael Winner and the BNP, much loved subject matter, namely the v-word, but Love’s approach is consistently fresh and, until the end, when things fall apart a bit, surprisingly original, which may do the man a disservice, assuming that his early work is Guy Ritchie in spades, when the writing here is taut, concise and as lean as a whippet.
Blair’s New London is not a happy place. The coppers are bent, the crime lords rule, racists dominate East End pubs, yobbos gather at every street corner shouting abuse and justice is a joke. When Bryant (Bean) returns from yet another stint in Afghanistan – or is it Iraq? – he finds the locks changed at home and another guy with his wife, snuggling up on the settee. He goes to a hotel where Hillier (a chilling performance from Sean Harris), the security chief, befriends him, knowing he’s army, he’s professional and he’s angry, the perfect requirements for leader of a get even vigilante group.
Things come together when Manning, the city’s most feared and powerful villain is in the dock at the Old Bailey. Cedric Munroe (Lennie James), the black prosecuting barrister, is approached by one of Manning’s guerillas in the toilet and told that if he doesn’t lose the case his pregnant missus gets it. Munroe’s driver for the duration is a bobby from the old school (Bob Hoskins), who resents being overlooked for promotion and ending up as a part-time chauffeur. Also, he is appalled by the corruption (“Most police can’t lie in bed straight”).
Gene Dekker (Danny Dyer) went to school with Hillier, but they were never mates and so when he starts feeling threatened by bullies in the workplace and outside, he makes contact and joins Bryant’s training sessions. A couple of others drift in and, with Munroe’s wheel man feeding them info about Manning’s crew’s whereabouts, The Outlaws, as the tabloids dub them, are in business.
This is where Love avoids the cliché. These guys make mistakes. Bryant is not Dirty Harry. He screws up. Things happen that force them over the edge and The Outlaws are men, with other lives, not The Wild Bunch in blood gushing slo-mo, which makes them more human and credible.
By taking the path of most resistance and denying his vigilantes heroic status, Love is in danger of disappointing his fan base, while gaining respect from aficionados of film. Bean portrays a man wound so tight he could self-destruct at any moment. Bryant needs vengeance like a junkie needs a fix and if you ask him why he’ll smack you in the head rather than give you an answer. It is a seminal performance from an actor who once relied on good looks, ably assisted by Hoskins and Dyer, who know their way around these characters like an Arsenal fan knows a Spurs supporter at 20 paces in the dark on a rainy Saturday night.