The Guvnors (2014)
“Revenge is its own executioner”
The Guvnors (2014)
Director: Gabe Turner
Cast: Doug Allen, Harley Sylvester, Charley Palmer Merkell)
Synopsis: The Guvnors is a violent thriller set amongst the clans and firms of South East London, bringing two generations together in brutal conflict.
It seems that old football hooligans, like old soldiers, never die if Gabe Turner’s The Guvnors is to be believed – they just fade away to become traffic wardens, or pub landlords, or even police officers intent on cleaning up the latest generation of thugs infesting London’s council estates. Mitch, a successful 40-something businessman who is the closest thing the film has to a hero, was once a fully paid-up member of the hooligan culture. He led a fearsome firm known as The Guvnors, and his life revolved around fights with rival gangs on the terraces and in the concrete jungles of South London. But he earned the lasting contempt of his close-knit former comrades when he suddenly turned his back on the life, and disappeared from their lives without explanation. He thought it was forever, but twenty-some years later, he finds that his violent youthful exploits have repercussions after his former mentor, Mickey (a near-unrecognisable David Essex), humiliates a young gang leader named Adam Shenko with a one-punch knockdown that goes viral on the internet. Knowing that his status depends on the fear of those around him, Shenko takes murderous revenge on Mickey, and then goes after Mitch, who is still something of a legend on the estate on which Shenko was raised, in order to cement his status as top dog.
The awful title of documentary filmmaker Gabe Turner’s inaugural fiction feature suggests yet another dreary, expletive-laden entry into an urban sub-genre which has deservedly languished in straight-to-DVD, ultra-cheap B-movie disgrace following a brief period of popularity, but he actually manages to produce a movie of some quality and style which, despite still glorifying the abhorrent violence of the terraces, delivers a sober, downbeat message. The smooth matinee looks of B-Movie stalwart Doug Allen (Sniper: Legacy) mean he’s more convincing as a svelte, up-market businessman than a former hard man, but he gives a decent account of himself nonetheless. However, it’s Harley Sylvester (who’s better known as one half of the hip hop duo Rizzle Kicks), who really impresses with a performance of dour, brooding intensity as Mitch’s nemesis Shenko. With the aid of his faithful sidekick, Trey (Charley Palmer-Merkell), Shenko oozes menace as he swaggers through the streets he rules with violent force. While Trey provides the more conventional face of malicious thuggery, genuinely enjoying the slashings and beatings he administers and the power he has over his victims, we learn from the way Shenko tenderly cares for his little brother that his tough exterior and near guttural street dialect is a front, a survival mechanism. So, although Shenko is the villain of the piece, his acts of violence stem from a warped sense of self-preservation, whereas Mitch and his generation appeared to indulge in violence simply for the thrill, as if it were a sport at which they had to be the best.
It’s this ambiguity of roles which lifts The Guvnors above its less ambitious brethren. Although none of the characters are worthy of our admiration, there’s at least some depth to them – no-one is completely good or bad (even the near-feral Trey attempts to prevent Shenko from beating Mickey to death). Most of us will root for Mitch and his tough but slightly past-it cronies only because they seek retribution for a heinous crime committed by Shenko and his men, but its just as likely that someone who shares Shenko’s background would understand all too well the pressures that motivate him to behave in the way that he does.
Turner’s directing debut is a solid one, even though, like many first-timers, he has a tendency to wear his influences – Scorsese in particular – on his sleeve. It’s true that The Guvnors’ plot falls apart in the final act with a soap-opera plot twist and mass brawl in which the old hands allow themselves to be lured into an ambush which any streetfighter would spot a mile off, but Turner shows enough talent behind the camera to suggest he is a name worth watching.
(Reviewed 21st February 2016)