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Film Talk: Sixth chapter in gritty gangster series looks to hit with a vengeance

There are few movies as delicious as a good, solid gangster flick.

Rise Of The Footsoldier: Vengeance: Anthony Skordi as Mo
Rise Of The Footsoldier: Vengeance: Anthony Skordi as Mo

Many of my favourite films belong to this genre, and despite their grit and grime, are a collection of comfort blankets I couldn’t do without being in my locker.

Maestro of the mob movie Martin Scorsese is of course to blame for several of my top hitters. 2006’s The Departed was a masterpiece that cemented my burgeoning love for Leo DiCaprio and only added to the awe I’d always had for Jack Nicholson. More recently, he’s given us The Irishman – one of the absolute highlights of 2019, and one that placed Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci front and centre. Not a bad line-up as far as mob flicks go, eh?

And then, of course, there was Goodfellas. Scorsese’s greatest work to date, and the film that gave birth to the sublime Pesci/De Niro pairing. When it comes to British gangster flicks however, we need to pay homage at other altars.

It cannot be denied that a certain Mr Ritchie’s contribution to this genre eclipses almost all other filmmakers. Lock, Stock; Snatch; The Gentlemen. Case closed. Yet, since 2007, a franchise born from the autobiography of real-life gangster Carlton Leach has held its weight, and this week its sixth instalment has hit cinemas. Rise of the Footsoldier: Vengeance sees Nick Nevern take the director’s chair to lead this gritty series into the next part of its story. But how does the new chapter compare to previous entries?

Elsewhere this week, Sir Kenneth Branagh leads the charge on both sides of the camera with new Poirot whodunnit, A Haunting In Venice.

Don’t miss Weekend tomorrow, where we chat to the man himself about his third stint as the moustachioed Belgian sleuth. But before that, let’s take a peek at the mystery to be solved...


Released: September 15 (UK & Ireland)

Opening with the image of blood dripping off the bumper of a Range Rover parked down a small farm track while Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird trills from a car radio, Rise Of The Footsoldier: Vengeance is the sixth instalment of a gritty crime saga initially based on the true story of the 1995 murders of two drug dealers in the village of Rettendon.

One of the victims, Pat Tate played with a permanent scowl by Craig Fairbrass, has been a mainstay of the saga comprising one sequel and numerous prequels that expand an unapologetically brutal story of crime and swift punishment across 1990s Essex and beyond.

Actor turned director Nick Nevern, who previously appeared in front of the camera in Rise Of The Footsoldier: Marbella, takes charge of the grisly latest chapter, working from a script co-written by Andrew Loveday and Jason Maza that takes hammers, hub caps and a crowbar to limbs and heads with unrestrained gusto.

Fans of the series will immediately feel at home with returning faces, who trade expletives like bullets to an era-specific soundtrack of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Soft Cell and Roxette.

When threats fail, they happily use a skipping rope as a garotte to move the plot along.

Pat Tate (Fairbrass) and good friend Kenny Knight (Josh Myers) bungle the robbery of two security boxes in broad daylight, shooting one of the guards before they make a frenzied getaway in a Ford Escort. Once they escape the chasing police officers, Pat opens the remaining security box and is incandescent to discover “a poxy two and a half grand in fivers”.

The heist was supposed to raise £20,000 that Pat needs to buy pills from David Hexell (Phil Davis) and the dealer reluctantly agrees to pay double for the initial consignment.

“You’re making too much noise,” Hexell warns Pat, referring to a police investigation into the robbery led by DCI Jones (Kirsty J Curtis) and colleague DI Monroe (Tom Padley).

While Pat seethes, Kenny secures a loan of £25,000 of his jailbird father’s money from club owner Sam (Jamie Foreman) to set up his own criminal enterprise with chancer and part-time drag queen Billy The Kid (Ben Wilson).

Their proposed pact with menacing Soho kingpin Mo (Anthony Skordi) goes awry and Kenny’s bloodied, lifeless body is found the next morning.

Punctuated by crisply edited drone footage, Rise Of The Footsoldier: Vengeance struts with intent towards an inevitable conclusion that feels like a fitting sign-off for the long-running franchise. On-screen brutality is frequent and graphic, fully justifying the film’s 18 certificate. When Fairbrass’s hard man promises to avenge Kenny and punish those responsible (“I’m going to bathe in their blood!”) we don’t doubt him or the film’s intention to show every sticky droplet of freshly spilt crimson.


Released: September 15 (UK & Ireland)

A Haunting In Venice: Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot

Shortly before a piercing scream reverberates across Venice to herald murder most horrid in director Sir Kenneth Branagh’s handsomely mounted whodunnit, Hercule Poirot witnesses a shadow theatre performance of a ghost story and wonders if children in the audience might be disturbed by the ghoulish content.

“Scary stories make life less scary,” casually explains his companion.

The scares in A Haunting In Venice are stylishly orchestrated and mildly effective, signalling a continued descent into darkness for Sir Kenneth’s embodiment of the debonair Belgian sleuth since a star-laden 2017 remake of Murder On The Orient Express.

His latest exercise in deduction is loosely adapted by returning screenwriter Michael Green from Agatha Christie’s 1969 novel Halloween Story and congregates a motley crew of suspects in an atmospheric locale (a supposedly haunted Venetian palazzo) for Poirot to interrogate after a dastardly crime is committed within his ear shot.

A Haunting In Venice stokes tension with questionable directorial flourishes including a protracted sequence of a discombobulated Poirot wandering down darkened corridors with a camera rigged to his chest so his face is a fixed point of interest in the gloom.

The intricacies of the plot are evident before a perpetrator is unmasked but the impressive ensemble cast including Jamie Dornan and Jude Hill, who co-starred in Sir Kenneth’s wondrous coming-of-age drama Belfast, generate sufficient suspicion and confusion with their tangled back stories.

Roughly a decade since tragic events on the Nile, Poirot (Sir Kenneth) has retired from sleuthing to meticulously tend plants and feed his sweet tooth in Venice. He hires former police officer Vitale Portfoglio (Riccardo Scamarcio) as a private bodyguard to swat away personal callers except “the pastry man, twice a day”.

American author Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey), who immortalised Poirot on her pages, secures a private audience.

She coerces the moustachioed Belgian to accompany her to a Halloween party thrown by opera diva Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly) in the palazzo where Rowena’s emotionally disturbed daughter Alicia (Rowan Robinson) fell from a balcony and drowned.

A medium, Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh), has been summoned to converse with Alicia and Ariadne intends to debunk the spiritualist.

“This is against nature and the good Lord. Somebody will have to pay!” warns Rowena’s superstitious housekeeper Olga Seminoff (Camille Cottin) and one of the guests tumbles to their demise.

A Haunting In Venice adopts the same stately pace as Sir Kenneth’s previous tours of the Christie estate, despite the shortest running time of the series. His portrayal of Poirot feels more grounded, reflecting the solemnity of the post-Second World War setting, and allows supernatural elements and Oscar winner Yeoh’s luminosity to command attention.

Impeccable production design and costumes, showcased by cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, elevate an intimate story of grief and betrayal made specifically for the big screen.


Released: September 15 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Rally Road Racers: Zhi (voiced by Jimmy O Yang)

A cute primate called a slow loris feels the need for speed in a computer-animated fantasy directed by Ross Venokur. Zhi (voiced by Jimmy O Yang) lives in the last remaining Loris Village in China, where he spends his days practicing tai chi and dreaming of glory on four wheels.

Granny Bai (Lisa Lu) has taken care of Zhi since his mother passed away and she is disappointed that the little loris hasn’t made more of his life.

Vainglorious Industries owned by psychotic toad Archibald Vainglorious (John Cleese) announces a plan to bulldoze Loris Village to make way for a luxury development called Muddy Meadows.

Granny’s house is earmarked for demolition so Zhi offers Vainglorious a wager.

They will both compete in the first Silk Road Rally, a gruelling four-day race over perilous terrain.

If Zhi wins, Vainglorious must hand over the deeds to Granny’s house. If the loris loses, he will become the public face of the development.

BROTHER (UK 15/ROI 15A, 120 mins)

Released: September 15 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Brother: Lamar Johnson as Michael and Aaron Pierre as Francis

Siblings experience the undeniable power of music to salve wounds in a study of masculinity set during the sweltering summer of 1991, which has been adapted by writer-director Clement Virgo from David Chariandy’s 2017 novel.

Francis (Aaron Pierre) and younger brother Michael (Lamar Johnson) are sons of Caribbean immigrants, who are in the thrall of Toronto’s early hip hop scene.

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