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Rise of the Footsoldier follows the inexorable rise of Carlton Leach from one of the most feared generals of the football terraces to becoming a member of a notorious gang of criminals who rampaged their way through London and Essex in the late eighties and early nineties. It is three decades of his life following him from football hooliganism, through to his burgeoning career as a bouncer, his involvement in the criminal aspects of the early 'rave' scene and subsequently to his rise to power as one of the most feared and respected criminals in the country. Written by
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It was the end of an era. But before the murders, the torture, the beatings and the ecstacy... before all of that, there was football. You see, football was where all the spite and the hatred first came from. On those terraces... well, it's where it all began for me.
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Rise of the Footsoldier is directed by Julian Gilbey who also co-writes the screenplay with Mike Hawk. It stars Ricci Harnett, Kierston Wareing, Craig Fairbrass, Roland Manookian, Terry Stone and Frank Harper. Plot follows the story of one Carlton Leech (sic), how he rose from being a football terrace hooligan to one of Essex's top club-land gangsters, and his involvement in the true-life murder of three drug Barron's in Rettendon, Essex in 1995.
I remember writing back in 1994 that there is a market for film's involving football hooligans. This was after the release of a film called I.D., the first, and still the best, film to put the itchy subject on the big screen. Four years later Guy Ritchie would make British gangsters hip, and since then a number of like minded British film's about hooligans, thugs, convicts and underworld crims have made their merry way to the screen. Some great: Lock Stock, Snatch, Sexy Beast, Football Factory, Layer Cake. Some mediocre: Cass, Revolver, Bronson. And some plain bad: Essex Boys, Bonded by Blood, The Business. What we do know is that whatever the quality, people want to see them, granted some of the viewers might actually be thugs or criminals themselves, getting off on another slice of blood marinated pie, but fact remains that the market remains the same, a number of film watchers enjoy their trips down the dark side of Britain.
But here's the question, where do we stop? After Cass, Bronson and now Rise of the Footsoldier, are we to assume that any hard man geezer can get a film made about him? Lets face it, we are not talking about Peter Sutcliffe or Dennis Nielson here. You sense that director Julian Gilbey realised this and made a film with two dovetailing stories, one about a hard man working his way thru the ranks of the underworld, the other about what might have led to three drug Barron big boys getting blasted to shotgun death one night in a dark country lane. Smart move, it gives his film an edge over other recent one dimensional film's of its ilk.
The top British film magazines have been savage on Rise of the Footsoldier, their critics clearly growing tired of having to sit thru yet another British thug movie. Yet although it clearly isn't the British Goodfella's; as one over keen DVD advertising executive called it, it's still a brutal and savage piece of film making aimed at a particular audience, who, it has to be said, will find tremendous amounts of things to enjoy about it. In many ways it's an ambitious attempt by Gilbey, threading the two stories together is a good move, and largely it works; tho fans of football hooliganism film's should note that this only fills the first ten minutes of the film. He's also tries to make his characters less psychotic than their crimes suggest they are, that doesn't work, but it's top marks for trying. Thus I disagree with those who have poured scorn on it as a piece of "thug porn", a film glorifying the bad seed that festers in society. Gilbey set out to shock, clearly, the subject matter calls for it, but he at least told a good story in the process and didn't shirk the big moments either.
Where it sits in the pantheon of Brit thug movies is to my mind quite high, because I found it riveting, nasty and often uneasy to sit thru. That has to be job done, no? Cast are mostly OK, with some of them familiar faces from other previous ne'er do well portrayals, and the snap-shot of the times is bright and sound-tracked accordingly. It's not a film I could watch with my mother, or even my missus, but the makers wasn't making that sort of film anyway. An acquired taste for sure, but still a tasty treat for those so inclined to the themes cooking in the pot. 8/10
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