Damien (Nick Nevern) is a London policeman, having joined the force from a difficult upbringing. In his spare time he is a borderline football hooligan and while on duty he frequently disregards proper rules to either get a friend’s charges lifted or put the boot in on a suspect who he doesn’t like. As tensions in London build towards the riots of summer 2011, Damien tries to keep his building rage under control while trying to establish a relationship with Louise (Kellie Shirley) a new police officer he has been partnered with.
Director Simon Phillips has previously worked as an actor and producer but seems determined to continue to stretch himself, taking his bow behind the lens for this workmanlike and unexceptional, but otherwise commendable film about a man with one foot in each of two very different worlds.
Nick Nevern was passable as the lead in the similarly toned (but very differently themed) White Collar Hooligan, but here shows real improvement and promise as a man seething with fury and liable to erupt given enough provocation. Trying not to become his father (who he visits in prison and who tells him that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree), but sensing that his anger is destined to get the better of him, Nevern brings shades of pathos and layers of characterisation that we might not have expected.
The rest of the cast offer relatively little, tending for the most part to be generically unpleasant or blandly one-dimensional. Steven Berkoff crops up for an extended cameo as Damien’s boss and Shirley produces excellent work around the unpleasant prolonged assault that triggers the film’s crescendo, but otherwise it is very much Nevern’s film. The narrative jumps around which helps to keep us focussed on what is happening, but the backdrop of the 2011 riots feels false and forced. News footage forms a prologue to the film, but there is no analysis of how those riots came about or how this particular story pertains to them. It might have been a better move to simply let the story be what it is, rather than trying to shoehorn it into recent events.
The film skips through its 80-minute run time and commendably never lags. There is (as always with this sort of film) far too much profanity, to the point where it loses any impact other than boring the viewer, but a real effort is made to create meaningful characters and consistent, coherent behaviour from them. Some of the bit parts descend into caricature or forgetability, but there seems to be a sincere effort here to build a film around people who feel like they have a past, present and future. We may not like most of them, but they at least feel thought through.
There are plenty of times when budgetary constraints show through, but it is unnecessary to give the film-makers a hard time for that. Resources are used intelligently and creatively, locations are chosen carefully and although some crowd scenes suffer from a lack of extras to make them feel authentic, it is a minor quibble for a generally successful film. Not everyone will enjoy it, but it is not entirely to be “enjoyed” in that sense. Flawed in many ways, but built around an excellent central performance from Nevern who looks like someone to watch for the future. You can rent GBH (formerly called Riot) from 1st October, right here.