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British Film Review: Top Dog
Directed By Martin Kemp
The opening shot of ‘Top Dog’, actor Martin Kemp’s debut feature film as director, is surprising given the genre of the film that unfolds after it. It’s an almost blank white screen. However as the camera pans up, specks of blood appear, which slowly increase in density, until it is revealed that this is a dead body, with a white morgue sheet over it. From here on in, we are in no doubt that, ‘once more unto the breach we go dear friends’… Into crime and grime, and the doings of mugs and thugs and hooligans galore.
Sadly, although crime is a beloved British genre, it is often one that is very badly done, so an audience faced, at this point with, ‘Top Dog’ could be forgiven for giving a deep sigh of resignation. However, when the voice over starts, with musings about the nature of fear and power, a sense that the audience is about to go on a great ride almost magically kicks in. Yes, the writing is that strong. Hard hitting author and screenwriter Dougie Brimson’s script is ace from the start and does not quit at any point until the final play out. It will delight fans of the genre, and stand defiantly proud to anyone who doesn’t, as a rare and great example.
Right from kick off, the central character,’ Billy Evans’, part time football hooligan gang leader and thug, and part time snappy dresser, car salesman about town, with nice wife, house, car and young son, grips the screen. Brilliantly directed by Kemp, and allowed full reign, talented British actor, Leo Gregory, ( ‘Green Street’, ‘Tristan and Isolde’ ) gives a sterling performance, and is solidly backed by a strong cast, all chosen for their character skills rather than their good looks. The pace is at first humorous as cocky Billy struts his manor and as front man of his fellow football brotherhood of hooligans, the ‘Acton Casuals’. However, when Billy takes on gangland boss Mickey, played well, and with a truly nasty sneer by Ricci Harnett, (Rise of the Footsoldier), this ‘Top Dog’, definitely bites off more than he can chew. As Billy gets further and further in over his head, the story spirals out of control with him and, cleverly grinds Billy into a corner where he stands to lose everything. The tension becomes almost palpable. This is very much due to the ability Kemp shows to pace and blend his actors into the world of the story. This talent is rare amongst even the best directors, but when all the cast pulls together this well, magic always happens.
This ability to weave us into the world of hooligans and take us on such a great ride is exceptionally good given the films relatively low budget, and it has to be said, at times is shows. This is not a good looking film. Some of the lighting is mediocre, and the camera work a bit uneven in places. However, it could just be that Kemp had restricted means and therefore schedule, and decided, given the ‘urban drama’, ‘Top Dog’ portrays, to concentrate on his actors rather than making the film look pretty. However, light and pictures can tell a story just as eloquently as an actor’s dialog, so it is a shame that the film looks flat in places. Apart from this, ‘Top Dog’ really is a top example of its genre. Sadly, it is bound to spawn fifty bad copies, but more hopefully, perhaps inspire somebody to give Kemp a bigger budget and a more strong willed photography department, next time.
4 stars for anyone not usually a lover of the British gangster/hooligan drama: 5 stars for confirmed fans.
Top Dog is out to own on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 26th May through Universal Pictures
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