Clive Owen stars as a former London underworld figure who left the criminal life and has been AWOL for a while now. He comes back three years later to learn that his wayward younger brother (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), a small-time drug dealer has ended up dead in a bathtub apparently of his own hand. Owen wants answers, and although he has abandoned his old life, he is still not a man with whom to fuck. The audience already knows what has happened, Rhys-Meyers was brutally raped (and we also know by whom), and when Owen finds out, he considers the rapist to basically be a murderer. Malcolm McDowell plays a family man and respected businessman who has a secret life as a vicious gangster, Ken Stott plays a rival underworld figure to McDowell who wants Owen to get out of town (having himself basically picked up where Owen left off three years ago), Sylvia Sims plays Rhys-Meyers’ landlady, Noel Clarke plays one of Owen’s former associates, and Charlotte Rampling is somewhat improbably cast as a former lover of Owen’s (!), who is also a local restaurant owner.
A frustratingly detached and slow-moving crime tale from 2003, this Mike Hodges (best-known for the classic gangster pic “Get Carter”, also about dead brother-motivated gangster revenge) film wastes a wonderfully nasty performance by Malcolm McDowell, and a perfectly-cast Clive Owen. There’s a good yarn in here somewhere, but Hodges has slowed it all down into a stodgy coma. Ken Stott briefly livens it up in a Ray Winstone-esque turn (acting clearly isn’t a problem here), but it’s just a slog to get through this one.
It doesn’t start very well, to be honest. I would’ve cut out everything before the oddball cab driver and Malcolm McDowell, who in his memorable opening scene basically re-enacts a moment from “Caligula”. The film really is a shameful waste of a perfectly good Malcolm McDowell performance. After about 30 years of pretty much phoning it in, McDowell is truly nasty, in a scene-stealing performance that in a better film might’ve seen him earn an Oscar nomination. One has almost forgotten that this actor long phoning it in, was once the guy from “A Clockwork Orange”. You keep watching the film because you want to stick around for what should be a fittingly gruesome end for this thoroughly rotten character. But it’s a pretty dull watch for the most part, and I’d lay that at the feet of Hodges, not writer Trevor Preston (who wrote several “Ruth Rendell Mysteries” and hasn’t worked since this film it appears). The pacing is deadly, every scene seems to be unnecessarily drawn out. The ambient soundtrack annoyed me no end too, it just droned on and on, like the film itself. And is it me or has Charlotte Rampling started to look like Peter O’Toole in drag? Tell me I’m wrong, folks, but that and the 20 year age difference between her and Owen just struck me as a little odd (Usually the May-December thing is gender reversed, isn’t it? Weird thing is the role was also possibly going to go to Vanessa Redgrave or Julie Christie!).
No, this film just doesn’t satisfy, it’s too slow and detached for my tastes. “Get Carter” it ain’t, but I’m sure someone out there will enjoy the rather arty approach. Just not me, I wasn’t engaged much at all, and it needed a whole lot more McDowell.