The Business Review
It's the early eighties and Frankie (Danny Dyer) is a frustrated South London youth with big dreams but no future. He does however have underworld connections, which will serve him well. When he beats his mum's abusive boyfriend to death, the local crime boss helps him disappear by sending him to Spain to deliver "biscuits" to a business associate. The associate's name is Charlie (Tamer Hassan). He's a wide boy with charm to spare and gaudy taste in clothes, cars and women. He runs a nightclub out there but makes his real money smuggling cannabis. The Spanish authorities look the other way in return for a slice of the profits and on the understanding that Charlie limits his activities to soft drugs. Trouble is, it's the eighties and the cocaine market is becoming too lucrative to resist.
Charlie likes Frankie - they grew up in the same neighbourhood - so he tells the boy to stick around and gives him a job driving for him. Over time, he begins to work his way up in the organisation. Charlie's partner Sammy (Geoff Bell) is less impressed with the youngster and sees him as a threat. That's a problem for Frankie because Sammy is a psychopath who maims and kills without a second thought. Now imagine Frankie's situation when he realises Sammy's sexy young wife Carly (Georgina Chapman) has taken a shine to him.
The Business is the third film made by Nick Love, one of the few British filmmakers who aims his work squarely at the multiplex audience - I mean the grass roots Saturday night crowd, not the middle brow couples who turn out for rom coms and Jane Austen adaptations. His first attempt Goodbye Charlie Bright flopped but last year's hooligan drama The Football Factory found its audience and now Love is hoping to expand it with this, his take on the British gangster film, which could be described as Goodfellas on the Costa Del Crime.
The results are hit and miss. The Business is entertaining enough, it has bags of energy and it gains an extra star from me for its well selected, wall-to-wall eighties pop soundtrack. At the same time, the movie is tacky, derivative, unfocused and frequently amateurish. You might think that's forgivable in a low budget production. I'd have to disagree considering what so many other independent directors have achieved with similarly limited coffers.
Love is clearly a talented man but his talent lacks maturity and his ambition overreaches his abilities and his financing. This is a film that means to show the highs and the lows of criminal life and fails because it doesn't have the budget for the highs and isn't prepared to fully deal with the lows. The Business demonstrates at times the intelligence and insight of a serious crime movie - a film that understands a villain's life is not something to aspire to - yet at other times it merely feeds the gangland fantasies of people who get off on reading the true-crime memoirs of blokes named Nosher. Although Love served both as writer and director, this still feels like a film pulling in different directions.
The ending is the most jarring symptom of the film's schizophrenia. I won't spoil it but it plays as a complete betrayal of the tone, themes and logic of the story. The American Graffiti-like "where are they now?" cards which follow it only add insult to injury. Ironically, if the movie had ended sixty seconds earlier (before the character gets in the car) it might have made a perfect conclusion, summing up nicely the life these people have chosen and what it's reduced them to.
Besides the frequent lapses in tone, there are lapses in plotting. The fall from grace in the last half hour happens abruptly - there's a caption reading "six months later" - and without adequate explanation. How do some of the partners survive the crackdown and others end up in the gutter? There appear to be at least ten minutes of plot missing. We're left to guess at how that head got on the pole and what happened next.
There's also a big lapse in taste. I'm talking about the method Charlie and Sammy use to smuggle hash across the Straits of Gibraltar: they hire young Moroccan children to paddle it across in rubber dinghies. Every so often one of the dinghies is spotted by Spanish patrol boats and the kids are machine-gunned. This is shown and described in such credible detail that it feels, sickeningly, like it must be based on fact, on information Love gleaned from his research. That may be so but he's making a fictional film here. There was no need to include this. If Love felt he had to, he should have given it the appropriate dramatic weight and dealt with how it reflects on his lead characters. Instead he brings it up and never mentions it again and we go back to laughing at the gangsters fighting over tennis games. The episode seems thrown in purely for shock value.
Perhaps most damaging of all is the slipshod way The Business depicts its titular business. This is where the fascination in a crime film lies: in convincing us we're getting insider knowledge about how criminals work. In Casino, Martin Scorsese spent an hour showing us in painstaking detail the mechanics of the Mob's operation in Las Vegas and it was as riveting as anything he's ever directed. Nick Love can't be expected to have Scorsese's skill but he also lacks his patience, his attention to detail and his interest in his subject matter. We get brief glimpses of what Charlie and Sammy are up to, such as the hash smuggling in the dinghies, but not nearly enough. When the boys move on to coke and become major suppliers, we learn precious little about it. Instead we get a jokey montage implying that everyone back in Britain was snorting charlie, including Maggie and Queen Liz.
What Love is best at is working with actors. Unlike many style-obsessed directors today, he gives his cast breathing room and he has a pleasing way of throwing in lots of humorous, character-revealing moments, like Charlie telling his Spanish decorator he wants everything in red, black and chrome or Sammy singing along to "Video Killed The Radio Star" while painting his wife's toenails. As a result, he gets impressive, naturalistic performances from his three leads, good enough that you can overlook the obvious character similarities with De Niro, Pesci and Liotta in Goodfellas.
Geoff Bell is sensational as Sammy, a malevolent slab of beef with curly ginger hair and a dead-eyed grin. He's the working definition of a man you wouldn't want to piss off. Tamer Hassan is equally good in his own way. I like the way he shows us Charlie's charm evaporating as he gets himself deeper and deeper into trouble till he's just a desperate spiv in a shell suit. As Frankie, Danny Dyer does a good job too, although his work is sabotaged by the clumsy narration he's forced to read. The voiceover, the film's biggest steal from Scorsese, is at best awkward and often embarassing. It piles on bad jokes and Cockney gangster clichés and doesn't even sound like it's being delivered by the same character Dyer plays in the film - his IQ seems to have dropped by half.
Georgina Chapman, a former model, doesn't make much of an impression as Carly. She doesn't come across as anything like the sexpot she's supposed to be. It hardly helps that she keeps her clothes on throughout - even in her one sex scene, she's wearing a bra. Such prudishness seems odd in a film that's being advertised as having more guns than Goodfellas, more coke than Casino and more swearing than Scarface.