For a long time, the phrase ‘British crime thriller’ has been associated with a slew of third rate ‘mockney’ geezer flicks that glamourise the criminal lifestyle. In recent years we’ve seen a new wave of British crime thrillers focus their attention on the other side of the law. James McAvoy has played dodgy cops in two of them - Filth and Welcome to the Punch - while Ray Winstone essayed another maverick bobby in the big screen reboot of ‘70s TV drama The Sweeney. The latest in this trend, Hyena, comes from writer-director Gerard Johnson and leading man Peter Ferdinando, the duo who gave us 2009’s Tony, an impressive low budget outing focussed on a socially awkward serial killer and his working class London backdrop.
Ferdinando was fantastic as Tony, and he’s equally winning as Michael, the anti-hero (with a capital A) of Hyena. The leader of a corrupt unit of coke-addicted coppers, Michael is about to cut a deal with a Turkish gangster when he witnesses his bloody execution by a pair of Albanian mobsters. Despite having witnessed their handywork, Michael ingratiates himself with the Albanians, striking a deal that amounts to the police equivalent of a protection racket.
Things get messy when internal affairs begin looking into Michael and his buddies and a former partner of his (Graham) arrives on the scene. Add a Travis Bickle-esque crusade to free a hooker from the clutches of the Albanians and Michael finds himself juggling too many foes.
Where the gangster focused British crime movies have taken Tarantino and Ritchie as their template, these new cop movies hark back further to the work of William Friedkin and Michael Mann, none more so than Hyena. With most of the movie set either at night or inside seedy windowless bars and brothels, the frame is constantly soaked in the sort of neon lighting so beloved by Mann, while the movie’s title card employs the very same blue font as Mann’s 1981 thriller Thief. Add a throbbing score by synthmeisters The The and it’s all too clear from where Johnson’s stylistic influence emanates. In terms of plot, the spirit of Friedkin’s cop movies looms large, with Ferdinando’s Michael very much the bastard son of Popeye Doyle and Richard Chance. But where the former duo refused to do things by the book, Michael tears pages out of the book, rolls them up and snorts coke through them.
For all its style and Ferdinando’s enthusiastic embracing of his character, Hyena ultimately offers little new to the cops ‘n mobsters milieu and ultimately serves as an extended showreel for its director and star, both of whom have done enough to hint at a potentially great future.
Directed by: Gerard Johnson
Starring: Peter Ferdinando, Stephen Graham
Neil Maskell, Myanna Buring
Elisa Lasowski, Richard Dormer