Hyena (2015) Capsule Review
Whilst I’d have loved the opportunity to support a fairly promising British film with a full review time is short and I have other obligations, so forgive me with something of a brief capsule review. I was going to open my commentary with some discussion on how difficult it is to capture the real aura and spirit of London on film, no doubt igniting exaggerated eye-rolling and accusations of southern prejudice from any UK dweller north of the Watford gap, but I stand by my premise – for every Eastern Promises, The Long Good Friday or Naked there are a dozen Notting Hill’s and mockney imitations of the loathsome Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels. These texts all seem to operate in this cartoon mirror of London rather than the real ethnic potpourri, of the squalid chicken cottages couched next to the opulent architecture of Belgravia and Bermondsey, of the rain sodden flagstones caked in gum, of the coffee shops and pubs awake with the chatter of Chechens, Chinese and Canadians. Does the world need yet another gritty, moody cockney crime caper featuring more bent coppers than Magneto in a mischievous mood at a Southend penny arcade? Probably not, but director Gerald Johnson seems to have drawn from the best pedigree of crime films for the inspiration for Hyena, you don’t go directly replicating Michael Mann’s font and neon glow title card for Thief for your sophomore movie without nuzzling up to dangerously vicious members of the pack.
Narcotic squad leader Michael (Peter Ferninando, unrecognisable from Johnson’s first feature Tony) isn’t a completely crooked cop, he does look out for the innocent and cares about the exploited and vulnerable, he just happens to have a few lucrative allegiances with some of his manors most notorious crime gangs and its never entirely sure if this is just a bluff to get deeper into their operation or he’s just Dot Cotton. Like any pressure cooker movie he’s beset on all sides with a thumbscrew tension – he and his coke snorting crew are being investigated by Internal Affairs and an old nemesis David Knight (Stephen Graham) has mysteriously returned from Brussels to lead the hunt for a vicious Turkish people smuggling gang. His partner Lisa (MyAnna Buring, the first of two thespians from Kill List including Neil Maskell) is also losing patience with his behavior, and the Albanian syndicate he’s in cahoots with is finding itself under pressure from some new dogs on the block. It’s with this panjandrum of pressure that the film fumbles and falters, as Johnson can’t quite keep the various strands in the air, and the plot becomes a little convoluted and confusing among the warring factions and Michael’s perjurious project management. Where it excels despite a miniscule budget however is in aura and tone, it’s a melancholic, inevitable and reflective piece among the usual testosterone tug-of-war (Michael’s friend whom I can best describe as Depeche Mode’s Andy Fletcher on steroids steals the film with some terrific humorous asides), with the filth hovering up more coke than a syndicate of street dealers, propelling the film forward with a frenzied and fluid charm.
So no doubt you’re looking for some commentary on the soundtrack given that it is provided by Matt ‘The The‘ Johnson, brother of the director, and one of the Menagerie’s all time favourite musicians. The highest compliment I can pay which the movie murderously earns is that I barely even noticed the score, so carefully it was embroidered into the films liquid lighting and urban estrangement, reminiscent of the Infected B sides and instrumentals for you real fans out there. Hyena howls for slightly more coherent and orchestrated things to come, but in terms of place and time it reminded me from a mood perspective as something approaching a contemporary capital Get Carter, powered with thick rails of Peruvian flake rather than a pint of bitter in a thin glass…….