Rise of the Footsoldier (UK - BD RB)
Marcus Doidge reviews the latest British gangland movie with Optimum's Blu-ray
Eighties Britain. Rise of the Footsoldier tells the tale of Carlton Leach (Ricci Harnett), a football lover who—because he loves football—is in a gang with some of the hardest football lovers in London, and they enjoy getting into big ol’ fights with other football lovers. After a long period of enjoying these battles around the country, Carlton realises the good times are over when the police start arresting people for being football fans and this decision is helped along by the fact that he receives an axe blow to the head.
His next career choice is to become a doorman for a friend at a local club where his fighting skills come back into play, including the age old classic doorman move of sticking knives up peoples arses to stop them mucking about. Not long after, Carlton brings in some of his old football mates to help out with his security job and they soon get quite the reputation. They move onto specialised jobs where they smash up people’s cars, deliver some less than legal items and of course do a bit of torture on the side.
However times are changing around Carlton and his friends. Rave culture—which is as important as the birth of Rock and Roll, Punk and Metal so we’re told by our narrator—comes into fashion and with that comes ecstasy, loving each other and dancing, but Carlton’s friends still manage to get in with some nasty sorts and when they may or may not have stolen some heroin they soon get a lesson taught to them with pipes and cattle prods. Carlton wants revenge, but his close friend Tony Tucker (Terry Stone), the sensible one, convinces him it will all end badly and he’s just being stupid.
By this, the halfway point of the film, I’m quite surprised that I could write as much as I have about this tepid movie. Seriously the first half is so ridiculously one-tone and unconvincing that it was barely even watchable. It spends about an hour setting up a group of unlikeables in a series of brutal fight scenes, one-on-one discussions about how someone else is ‘taking the piss’ and dropping F-Bombs and C-Bombs like they’ve replaced ‘a’ and ‘and’ in our language. All of this is covered by the lead character’s voiceover telling us exactly what’s happening on screen the whole time and generally being a totally unconvincing piece of filmmaking in regards to inviting you along for this done a million times before ride.
Then comes the second half of the movie that ditches the voiceover (though not altogether) and invites the next wave of unlikable one-dimensional characters who include the crazy Pat Tate (Craig Fairbrass), throwing his weight around and doing his best ‘don’t mess me with, I’m the mental one’ impression. Now we’re in the nineties and yes the drug culture has taken over, especially for the now not so sensible one, Tony Tucker. Between his drug-addled bad decision making and Pat Tate’s mental over the top outbursts, the second half of the movie pretty much belongs to them. Chasing down Welsh guys that are taking the piss, beating on pizza boys for taking the piss, throwing people out of windows for…you guessed it, taking the piss. It’s all pretty brutal stuff, which the filmmakers are adamant on the special features does not glamorise this culture to teenagers, yet it totally glamorises this culture to teenagers (and grown men). When you throw in big men literally getting away with murder, sniffing coke off of big breasted women in hospital beds and running around with guns and getting away with every bad thing they do because they are so feared by everyone around them, it’s sort of unavoidable. Look at Scarface, he’s pretty much the biggest screw up ever in regards to how it all ends up, but that’s still glamorised like it’s the alternative American dream.
Anyway this all gets more and more extreme with examples including a character purposely making another character overdose and Pat Tate (the mental one remember) giving a shop manager a Chelsea smile with a pizza cutter, until we reach the finale. I’d actually forgotten to mention the movie opened with three bodies in a morgue, but that was there to get us to this point at the end and finding out how these bodies came to die in their Land Rover in the woods. Well you get a few different takes of that, just to all stay all brutal and bloody, until you get what is imagined to be the actual events. Oh did I not mention this was based on a true story as well? All this actually happened, which makes this shocking, but at the same time you wonder how this could be so unconvincing. Nothing feels real, everything feels like a low-rent gangster movie, there's absolutely nobody to connect to; the dialogue is shocking in places and not only for the overbearing swearing. In fact, to stick with the language of the movie this is all c**t and no substance.
Rise of the Footsoldier is a pretty great Blu-ray transfer. Skin tones and textures are fantastic and all of the crims’ stubble and shaving rashes are very apparent. The details in pretty much all of the shots are high quality and impressive and the lighting is captured well.
On the flip side to all this, the quality on the transfer really shows off the films tiny English budget. Many of the interior sets look really ropey and borderline Eastenders in appearance. In fact, some of the apparently crowded locations feel as if there are only about five or six people in the room and the great picture does very little to help sell this illusion.
I really didn’t like the audio on this one. Despite a lot going on in the speakers, it still felt hollow and the background music tracks really suffered because of it. The combination of loud shouting, terrible sounding music and it all feeling slightly off, generally, you just end up wanting the clear quieter dialogue scenes back, despite them being mostly terrible as well.
Other noticeable annoyances are in the early football hooligan fights. The crowd noise sounds as if it has just been layered over the top, rather than captured from the filmed scenes and you soon feel disconnected from the events as the sound doesn’t quite match the visuals. Also, the over use of repetitive music tracks throughout the film not only sound weak, but are annoying.
The commentary by writer/director Julian Gilbey and co writer Will Gilbey is an easy listen. There are rarely quiet moments and they pack in information and their obvious respect for the story and the elements of it that were important to them and the real Carlton Leach. Strangely not included on the commentary, the real Carlton Leach gets his time in the spotlight in a separate interview (21.31) where he recounts just how his book led onto the movie being made and he really comes across as a likable geezer (shame none of this was caught in his depiction in the movie).
There’s an extensive Making of (1hr 17min) that repeats quite a lot of what was said in the commentary, but adds more insight from some of the actors and it chronicles the entire process of the movie with a lot detail. I like a good documentary that takes its time and this is a very nice companion to the film, even if the film itself wasn’t my cup of tea.
There are a collection of Auditions (20:53) and Outtakes (18:02). The auditions are from none of the main cast and were pretty uninteresting and the outtake reel out-stayed its welcome about five minutes in. Same can be said for the extended/deleted Scenes (29:00).
Lastly there’s the trailer (1:40) and a stills gallery (3:05). The stills gallery runs along with the main song from the film playing, which incidentally is also all over the menus and hard to escape while navigating the extras, so it will be bouncing around my head and annoying me for the rest of the week. Great.
As you’ve probably picked up by now, I wasn’t Rise of the Footsoldier’s biggest fan. In all fairness, I don’t think I’m its audience as I’m not really into the British gangland genre anyway and am even less so because of how it’s revered by certain sectors of its audience.
The film has its moments—mostly ones that shock rather than entertain—and I’m sure its targeted audience will eat it up, but for me, this true story feels messy and isn’t sure of its direction. Nothing is explored in enough detail and its use of shorthand sloppy dialogue to try and make you feel as if you are in the 80s or 90s is heavy handed and frankly silly.
There’s plenty more like this elsewhere and most of it is a lot better but for fans of the movie this is a solid Blu-ray presentation, despite its lacklustre sound mix and it comes with a good amount of interesting extras, so I can only commend it for catering to its audience despite its budget limitations.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 15th September 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Extras: Commentary, Making of, Auditions, Interview with Carlton Leach, Outtakes, Extedned/Deleted Scenes, Stills Gallery, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Julian Gilbey
Cast: Ricci Harnett, Terry Stone, Craig Fairbrass
Genre: Crime and Drama
Length: 118 minutes