Gangster Movie Month: "Rise of the Footsoldier" Review


Gangster Movie Month: "Rise of the Footsoldier" Review

-- Rating: R
Length: 119 minutes
Release Date: Dec. 1, 2008
Directed by: Julian Gilbey
Genre: Action/Biography/Crime

"Rise of the Footsoldier" tells the story of real-life crime leader Carlton Leech (Ricci Harnett), a British gangster who started engaging in violent acts at a very young age. The film begins when Leech was just a teenager and the leader of a gang of football hooligans. He terrorized fans of other clubs with genuine glee and abandon, which is scary enough. Unfortunately, Leech didn't stop there, instead choosing to become a bouncer at a nightclub where some very shady business deals took place.

As a bouncer, Leech is allowed to beat the pulp out of anyone who steps out of line, a task which he enjoys a little too much. Seeing just how predisposed to violence he is, his bosses decide to promote him, having him collect protection money from terrified local business owners. From there, he begins his ascent, joining Tucker (Terry Stone), Tate (Craig Fairbrass), and Rolfe (Roland Manookian) in dealing ecstasy during the height of the rave craze during the late 1980s and early 1990s. It's a very lucrative business with lots of competition, which leads to some of the bloodier confrontations between rival dealers and their henchmen. Some of the scenes are downright shocking, yet creative in how props and weapons are used. It's almost unbelievable that anyone could lead this kind of life, but Leech has been violent since he was just a kid, so he is never shocked by the line of work he has chosen.

As Leech, Tucker, Tate, and Rolfe ascend to dominance in the gang world, they begin to enjoy the spoils of authority a little too much. All of the violence, drugs, money, and women become so commonplace that Leech eventually becomes bored. The final act of the film shows how his three partners become more and more unhinged, which eventually leads to their very brutal deaths in an empty field. Leech is the only surviving member, which forces him to choose between avenging the deaths of his friends and continuing as the head of the gang alone, or leaving behind the crime syndicate he helped build. It is a real moral quandary that leads him to question what life would be like after thirty years of leading a violent, bloody life.

Harnett not only plays the main character, he also serves as the narrator of the film. The narration helps the audience see things from Leach's perspective, which gives a scary look into the head of a sociopath. This insight into Leach's psyche allows viewers to see his point of view, which is very important later in the film when he begins to grow tired of the gangster life. The audience understands the journey to the top and the desire to retire from a life that will bury anyone who continues living it. One of the most chilling aspects of a film full of chilling scenes is the fact that despite his need to leave the life of crime he chose, Leach shows no remorse for choosing that life. He displays little sympathy for the lives he took or ordered to be taken, which makes it hard for the audience to root for him, even as they hope he retires before he is murdered.

As both the lead and the narrator, Harnett turns in a fantastic multilayered performance. In between the blood and gore, he manages to make Leech a fully developed character who has reasons and motives for the things he has done. This is rare in mob films, many of which just go for violence and action at the expense of character development.

Director Gilbey does not flinch at all when showing just how seedy the underbelly of the British gangster scene is. He almost gleefully shows just how violent, bloody, and misogynistic the men at the helm of the various gangs can be. The result is fairly shocking in some parts, and definitely not for children or the faint of heart. Despite its violent core, this is a great story about the rise and fall of a notorious gang leader that is made even more vivid by the fact it is all based on a true story. Gilbey has shown a knack for this kind of violence and storyline in his previous efforts, but "Rise of the Footsoldier" cements his status as one of the best directors in the crime genre. The film will send shudders down the spine of almost anyone who watches it at least once, which makes it a fantastic thriller as much as it is a crime film.

Rating 3 out of 5