23 February 2007 07:19
Outlaw: How will Nick Love's anti-crime film go down with the lads?
By Alice Jones
Published: 23 February 2007At the beginning of Nick Love's new film Outlaw, Danny Dyer's character Dekker brings his zippy convertible screeching to a halt at a junction and comes face to face with the nightmarish vision of a lamp-post adorned with piles of flowers and his photograph. It's a nice variation on the classic gangland warning of sending a funeral wreath to an intended target and sure enough, within seconds a frenzied chase is underway and Dekker is beaten to within an inch of his life by a carload of thugs. But Outlaw isn't just another film about the lives and crimes of all-powerful gangsters. Rather its subject is their victims - ordinary people whose lives have been destroyed by extraordinarily violent crime.
Outlaw centres on Danny Bryant (Sean Bean) who returns home from active service in Iraq to be greeted by abusive youths on his street corner and the sight of his wife with another man. Dismayed by the apparently lawless and amoral society for which he has been fighting, he vows to fight the evil of the streets. It doesn't take long to assemble a band of "like-minded people" - law-abiding men from all walks of life who have been affected by horrific crimes and feel that the law has failed them. As well as Dekker and Munroe (Lennie James), the barrister, there is Sandy Mardell (Rupert Friend), a Cambridge student who has been set upon by a gang of homophobic yobs. Hillier (Sean Harris), a security guard and Walter Lewis (Bob Hoskins), an ageing cop disillusioned by his corruption-riddled police force, complete the gang.
Love was originally inspired by the true story of a schoolboy who was attacked, unprovoked, by a gang of youths. He was still in hospital undergoing reconstructive facial surgery when his attackers were released from prison. The story provided Love with the character of Mardell and led him to consider the state of the British judicial system. "There's a sense of dissatisfaction in the country. People feel let down by the law and we're living in a time when people don't feel safe on the streets", says Love. "The big failure of the Labour government is the level of street crime and youth culture." The 37-year old director speaks from experience. On a south-London housing estate, he dabbled in crime and drugs as a teenage delinquent before getting a job as a runner at a Soho film company aged 17. "I got beaten up by police, went to youth institutions and I didn't like it", he says. "I'm the proof that taking a hardline approach to young criminals works."
The film runs the gamut of headlines which scream out every day, encompassing the incompetence of the Home Office, prison overcrowding, insufficient monitoring of known paedophiles and gun crime. The central figure, the clearly traumatised Bryant, also raises pertinent questions about the facilities provided for returning soldiers. It all adds up to a persuasively dystopian vision of society where feral kids roam the streets, bent policemen aid and abet powerful criminals and crime goes unpunished. "It's a violent world we're living in. Just this week there are kids of 15 being shot in their beds in a gang war in south London - that's the reality, it's not a film. The law is clearly not on top of it," says Dyer. "The film raises the question - if someone were to do something horrific to you and the law failed you, what would you do about it? Would you actually take revenge on them, right a few wrongs?"
"Righting a few wrongs" is just the kind of seductive language used by vigilantes to justify their own lawless actions. But as Love's film demonstrates in sickeningly graphic detail, fighting violence with violence will quickly spiral out of control. Love is already coming under fire for the film. "People are saying it's very militant, right-wing film-making but it's a bit short-sighted if they think I'm saying 'hey, take the law into your own hands, it's really cool'." Nevertheless, the film - with all the romantic associations of its title - portrays the idea of a band of hard-done-by citizens taking it upon themselves to mete out justice to wrongdoers as dangerously attractive, if far from liberal. The film has the media and the public championing the outlaws' cause. Is Love doing the same and glamorising violence?
Certainly his previous films - The Football Factory, about rival firms of hooligans, and The Business, set among 1980s drugs barons and described as having "more guns than GoodFellas, more cocaine than Casino and more swearing than Scarface" - will do little to persuade his detractors otherwise. "People will think 'it's him again making his violent rubbish'," sighs Love. But this time around the director has surprised even himself. He had conceived Outlaw as a Mad Max-style "vigilante gang flick" aimed squarely at his loyal fans. "The first script I wrote was tonally much more like my other films - a black comedy, tongue-in-cheek," he says. "As I worked on it I realised it was an important subject so it didn't feel right to give it the same sort of laddy treatment."
Most surprisingly, the film reveals a "fear of violence". The vigilantes are desperate men, pushed to the brink. "Dekker's the everyman - the City boy, the grafter, the guy who loves his girlfriend," says Dyer. "He'll do anything to avoid violence and most men are like that. As much as they talk about it in the pub, there's only a very small percentage who love to have a fight."
My friend said 'you are absolutely going to split opinions but you've made a film that says something rather than just a lads' film'." Dyer agrees. "You want to be part of something that's controversial rather than being part of a film that people watch and then forget about as soon as they leave the cinema."
'Outlaw' opens on 9 March