Top Dog was brought to life by Green Street writer Dougie Brimson and lead actor Leo Gregory, who plays bad-boy-turned-good Billy Evans. Evans makes the fatal faux pas of trying to protect his family from a local gang who are charging them protection money – so far, so ordinary. But director Kemp is evidently keen on attempting to present something a little different. There is a clear relationship between Green Street and Top Dog, although the latter is far subtler. Kemp recognises that the football hooliganism that is so glorified in Green Street is more of an echo now then it was at the time of the former being made. Everyone has moved on now, although that’s not to say that there isn’t still room for trouble.
Kemp makes a real attempt to steer clear of the bog-standard story of football and fighting, and to an extent it pays off. The focus is far more on the negative impact of the sort of lifestyle that Billy has previous enjoyed, and is trying desperately to escape. Gregory is highly entertaining as Evans, with all the swagger that we’ve come to expect, but there’s also a quieter side; Evans is a man trying to think before he acts, trying to be a good husband and a good parent.
A notable strength of the film is the more prominent use of the female cast. Billy’s wife Sam, played by Dannielle Brent, and the excellent Lorraine Stanley, playing the wife of right-hand man Graham, both give great performances, and are woven in to the story, rather than being vacuous stereotypes that are so often churned out in films of the same genre. The film focuses on the interaction between them as friends, and as partners of two men that they never fully trust. Their friendship is as much a part of the film as the rest of the narrative, and it’s a pleasure to see the women in the piece being presented as more than trophies for the men to use (although there is, of course, plenty of that too.)
Sadly the film doesn’t totally manage to steer clear of the usual archetypal characters that are so overdone, and if you’re not a fan of the genre, with its geezers and birds and brutal violence, then Top Dog isn’t going to do too much to change your mind, but it’s got to be commended for its deliberate effort to step away from it all, and to present a film with some substance as well as style.