Inexorably the British crime flick continues apace, perhaps wounded by continual critical drubbings, but still able to secure the occasional big screen release. The most recent, and latest on DVD, is Colin Teague’s Spivs, a film which doesn’t so much look forwards in search of places where the genre can go, but, as the title suggests, constantly peers back so as to seem almost archaic. At its centre is Ken Stott as one of the eponymous conmen, a man scraping together a living with his gang of fellow swindlers (Kate Ashfield, Nick Moran and Dominic Monaghan) by ripping off greedy, wealthy businessmen. His life changes, however, when the film’s one nod toward contemporary culture sees him lumbered with a pair of cute, asylum seeking children.
Despite its ‘scope framing , Spivs is a film that owes more to television than cinema, coming across as a blend of a less flashy Hustle and a more expletive ridden Minder. Moreover, its in the casting where this is most apparent, not only courtesy of Stott’s appearance, but also in the presence of comedians Jack Dee and Paul Kaye, both of whom are better known for their small screen endeavours. Indeed, the vast majority of key roles are occupied by those who have, over the years (or, in the case of Monaghan, over a trilogy), cultivated their own personas. Yet despite the various names in the cast list, writers Teague and Gary Young never utilise them in any kind of instructive manner. Instead of drawing on his ability to straddle the good/bad divide as he had done so well in The Debt Collector and The Vice TV series, Stott is simply a loveable rogue, one lacking in any genuine depth or characterisation. Likewise, Moran, Kaye, Monaghan, et al comes across as equally one-note, often drawing on a single characteristic tic with which to carry their entire screen time.
The problem is that there is little in the screenplay for them to fall back on. The dialogue veers between the memorable and the obvious (we are constantly being told what is going on in the most plainest of terms: “You never give anyone a chance” or “It’s all one big con, mate”) with neither demonstrating anything in the way of rhythm, natural or otherwise. A similar situation exists with regards to the plotting, whereby each scene lurches clumsily to the next without any true sense of momentum. Rather Teague attempts to counter the “one damned thing after another” by using a set of absurd coincidences as a means of shaping his and Young’s narrative. As such any semblance to reality swiftly dissipates meaning that both the intended emotional (i.e. sentimental) content and the menace fail to exist in any palpable terms. What we are left with then is an empty shell of a film, notable only as another sorry example of an increasing tired, and laboured, genre.
As a new release Spivs understandably looks as good as could be expected on disc. The original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is adhered to and presented anamorphically, whilst the print is free of damage and transferred without any technical difficulties. The only problem lies in the original cinematography - not the most appealing - though this can hardly be the fault of the disc’s producers. As for the soundtrack, a DD5.1 mix is in place and copes ably with both the dialogue and intermittent gunfire, though, as should be expected from a film that seems more televisual than cinematic, the rear channels are rarely used.
Of the extras only the commentary is of note as the theatrical trailer is largely filler and the featurette typical EPK waffle. The talk track is hosted by Teague and his co-writer Young and finds the pair on largely agreeable terms. They discuss most areas of Spivs’ production, though they do have a tendency to get overly “blokey” at times, which some may find especially trying.
Unlike the main feature, the extras are without optional subtitles.