5 out of 10
Release Date: 1st June 2014 (DVD Premiere)
Director: Martin Kemp (Stalker (2011))
Cast: Leo Gregory, Ricci Harnett, Lorraine Stanley, George Russo, Dannielle Brent, George Sweeney, Susan Penhaligon, Francis Pope, Johnny Palmiero, Gary Lawrence, Ryan Oliva with Jason Flemyng and Vincent Regan
Writer: Dougie Brimson
Trailer: TOP DOG
Martin Kemp’s (STALKER) second feature film as director, whilst being an improvement on his debut, is a solid yet melodramatic drama that refuses to distinguish itself. It’s about a small time criminal, Billy Evans (LEO GREGORY – WILD BILL) biting off more than he can chew. Bolstered by committed performances from a talented cast of familiar and unknown faces, this could be producer Jonathan Sothcott‘s most serious and grown up film to date. What stops Top Dog being one to remember and celebrate though is its reluctance to stand out from the crowd, a lack of originality and yet another ‘tin eared’ script. This is rescued from stinkerdom though by notably excellent performances from Leo Gregory (who does convince as a man out of his depth), Lorraine Stanley (THE HOOLIGAN FACTORY) (who seems to be the ‘go-to’ lady when producers need a powerhouse actress in their low-budget flick) and Ricci Harnett (TURNOUT) (it’s always great to see this underused actor in all too rare leading roles).
The plot runs on rails. It’s all very predictable and plays like a violent, sweary yet over melodramatic episode of Eastenders. The soap operatics near the end over tip the whole film into parody come it’s misjudged ending, but for most of the film’s running time it keeps it’s cool and nerve. The plot also includes some football hooliganism. Yes, it’s a film without the word Hooligans in the title or a big ass St George’s flag on the front. Incredible! Based on a novella by Dougie Brimson – the predictable plot sees top boy Billy of the local firm Acton Casuals (AC! CHA CHA CHA!) go up against Harnett’s local mr big when Billy’s Auntie’s (SUSAN PENHALIGON – SOLDIER OF ORANGE) pub begins getting squeezed for protection money. The whole thing escalates in a tit-for-tat war that continually ups the stakes until people begin to get kidnapped, killed and the whole skirmish gets extinguished by bigger fish further up the food chain.
There are flashes of visual brilliance in this other wise ordinary point and shoot affair. The film’s opening shot of what appears to be snow covered mountains turns out to be something altogether different is powerful and difficult to forget. It’s a shame the rest of the film is directed and lensed so anonymously, but these are small complaints when Kemp, Sothcott and the actors have gotten so much right this time. A reliable Jonathan Sothcott production has been a long time coming. After his solo calling card Vendetta proved, his brand isn’t arsing around in the shallows anymore. He’s on the way up. Vendetta was a huge success and with Top Dog, it’s proven itself to be a hard act to follow. I’m happy to say that whilst Top Dog isn’t great at least it feels like a real film. It doesn’t look cheap and the plot is tight and makes sense throughout. It’s also harder to critique a film that I don’t like because it’s down to my personal tastes, rather than not liking it because it’s a slap dash piece of cheap crap. Whilst this comes across like a place holder before the bigger more flashier Jonathan Sothcott productions come down the line it still serves as the second best film he’s put together in his short but very busy run. Here’s to We Still Kill The Old Way and Age of Kill doing less fence sitting and more thrill making.
5 out of 10 – Solid yet ordinary gangster melodrama that is helped no end by a stellar cast committed to getting this Dog on (or near) the top. Middle Dog it is then.
Another review by Joe Pesci II below.
WHAT HAVE I SEEN THAT ACTOR IN BEFORE?
- Leo Gregory: Northmen, The Hooligan Factory, All Things To All Men, One In The Chamber, Payback Season, Wild Bill (2012), Big Fat Gypsy Gangster, The Big I Am, Cass, Goal 3, Stoned, Green Street
- Ricci Harnett: Rise of the Footsoldier 2, Vendetta, The Rise and Fall Of a White Collar Hooligan, Ill Manors, Turnout, Psychosis, Rise Of The Footsoldier, Joy Division, 28 Days Later
- Lorraine Stanley: No Reasons, A Hundred Streets, Suffragette, Legend (2015), The Guvnors, The Hooligan Factory, The Hooligan Wars, He Who Dares, Essex Boys Retribution, GBH, Made In Dagenham, Cass, London To Brighton
- George Russo: Trespass Against Us, Gunned Down, Bonded By Blood 2, I Am Soldier, Green Street 3, Turnout, Tony
- Dannielle Brent: Ill Manors, Shifty
- George Sweeney: Revolver, Citizen Smith (TV), The Bitch
- Susan Penhaligon: A Fine Romance (TV), Leopard In The Snow, Soldier of Orange, Nasty Habits, The Land Time Forgot, No Sex Please We’re British, Under Milk Wood (1972)
- Francis Pope: Turnout, Tony
- Ryan Oliva: Montana, Vendetta, The Seasoning House
- Johnny Palmiero: Rise of the Footsoldier 2, Bonded By Blood 2, Age of Kill, We Still Kill The Old Way, Bonded By Blood, The Kid (2010), Green Street
- Jason Flemyng: Gemma Bovery, Sunshine On Leith, Welcome To The Punch, I Give It a Year, The Great Expectations (2012), Wild Bill (2012), X Men-First Class, Hanna, Solomon Kane, Kick Ass, Ironclad, Dead Cert, Jack Falls, The Riddle, Shifty, Clash Of The Titans, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Mirrors, Stardust, Rollin With The Nines, Transporter 2, Layer Cake, Below, Mean Machine, The Bunker, Snatch, Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels,The Red Violin, The Hollow Reed, Deep Rising, Spice World, Alive & Kicking (1996), Deep Rising, Stealing Beauty, The Jungle Book (1994)
- Vincent Regan: Vendetta 2, The London Firm, Vendetta, St. George’s Day, Outside Bet, Snow White & The Huntsman, Lock Out, Ghost Rider 2, Bonded By Blood, The Holding, The Big I Am, 300, Hard Men