Tag Archives: crime drama

NETFLIX TV REVIEW – DIRTY JOHN (2018)

NETFLIX TV REVIEW – DIRTY JOHN (2018)

Created by: Alexandra Cunningham

Based on articles and podcast: Dirty John by Christopher Goffard

Directed by: Jeffrey Reiner

Writers: Alexandra Cunningham, Christopher Goffard, Sinead Daly, Lex Edness, Kevin J. Hynes, Evan Wright, Diana Son, etc.

Producer(s): Melinda Whitaker, Christopher Goffard, Nan Bernstein Freed, Jonathan Talbert, etc.

Cast: Connie Britton, Eric Bana, Juno Temple, Julia Garner, Jean Smart, Shea Whigham, Alan Ruck, Kevin Zegers, etc.

Composer: Mark Mothersbaugh

Original networks: Bravo (USA) and Netflix (UK)



Such is the veracious appetite journalists, writers, filmmakers, TV producers, podcasters and the audience have for true crime stories, it’s no surprise that the life of con-man, John Meehan, and his victims, was turned into a thrilling eight-part drama shown on Bravo and Netflix respectively. After decades of cons, fakery, impersonations, drug addiction, robberies, lawsuits, insurance scams, harassment, spying, stalking and consistent lying, Meehan’s criminal activities came to an end as recently as 2016. Meehan had been trained in the “art” of the con by his father from a young age. Alas, his nature could not, unlike his sister, overcome such spurious nurture and Meehan was destined for a life of crime. They say truth is stranger than fiction and that is very much the case here with some of his venomous antics quite unbelievable. However, Meehan must have had so much charm and confidence to trick the many women he deceived, his character sadly stands as a heinous example of toxic masculinity.

Eric Bana portrays John Meehan in Dirty John (2018). Bana is an excellent actor and arguably, based on his breakthrough performance in the film, Chopper (2000), one who I thought would achieve possibly more critical acclaim. His career is full of sterling work though and his handsome looks and rugged charisma are perfectly utilised as John Meehan. Indeed, when we first encounter him he is meeting Debra Newell (Connie Britton) for a date. After a sticky start the romance develops very quickly. Debra is a wealthy interior designer with her own business, and her character is exceptionally kind, but somewhat gullible. Even when her kids, Veronica (Juno Temple) and Terra (Julia Garner), warn her that something is rotten about John, her desire for John overcome any doubts she may harbour. As Debra, Connie Britton gives a brilliant representation of a woman who is desperate for love and companionship. Having said that, Juno Temple steals every scene as the mouthy daughter, Ronnie, someone who is certainly way more suspicious of John than her good-natured mother.



Structured around John and Debra’s developing romance are flashbacks to John’s prior relationships and crimes. While he is shown to be a really bad man, context is given during scenes from his youth. His father, portrayed by the excellent character actor, Shea Whigham, has young John eating a Taco with glass placed in it, so he can scam the restaurant. Such twisted examples of dire parenting give reason to John’s later behaviour, however, they should not excuse his actions in adulthood. They also explain John’s dependency on narcotics. This addiction to opiates, as well as a sociopathic desire to lie and cheat, drive the character and narrative powerfully. In the scenes where Debra, having incredibly given John another chance, helps him go cold turkey, Bana’s acting levels are most impressive.

As the drama proceeds and Debra and her daughters begin to discover the crimes of John’s past they themselves become targets of his malevolence. John is a beast Debra has alas invited into her life and one feels so much empathy for her and his other victims. Moreover, even when cornered and accused John Meehan is at his most dangerous. He often savagely attacked his accusers and their family members with severe vengeance. But, the scariest part for me was that he was “qualified” to be a Certified Registered Nurse Anaesthetist; a profession he exploited to rob and feed his drug addiction. Ultimately, I can recommend Dirty John (2018), to those who enjoy absorbing crime dramas. Some shows, with such “real life” narratives, can be exploitational in tone. However, this is a high quality production with excellent acting, writing and directing throughout. It really was edge-of-your-seat viewing, with Eric Bana’s multi-dimensional acting delivering a true monster for the millennium.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11



SKY TV REVIEW – GANGS OF LONDON (2020)

SKY TV REVIEW – GANGS OF LONDON (2020)

Created by: Gareth Evans, Matt Flannery

Directors: Gareth Evans (2 episodes), Corin Hardy (4 episodes), Xavier Gens (3 episodes)

Executive producer(s): Thomas Benski, Lucas Ochoa, Jane Featherstone, Gabriel Silver

Producer(s): Hugh Warren

Writers: Claire Wilson, Peter Berry, Joe Murtagh, Gareth Evans, Matt Flannery, Lauren Sequeira, Carl Joos,

Cast: Joe Cole, Sope Dirisu, Lucian Msamati, Michelle Fairley, Mark Lewis Jones, Narges Rashidi, Parth Thakerar, Asif Raza Mir, Valene Kane, Brian Vernel, Jing Lusi, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Orli Shuka, Richard Harrington, Jude Akuwudike, Emmett J. Scanlan, Colm Meaney etc.

Production company(s): Pulse Films, Sister Pictures, Sky Studios

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**



The British, or more specifically, London-based gangster narrative is a well-trodden pathway for writers, directors and filmmakers. In fact, when Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) was a low-budget sleeper hit, agents and film companies were never more than a few feet away from a cheeky-chappie-laddish-gangster script. Ritchie obviously has made his name in the crime genre and his most recent film, The Gentlemen (2020), was another rollicking piece of entertainment. However, Ritchie’s stylish geezer model doesn’t always show the serious side of the British crime yarn. Films such as: Villain (1971), Get Carter (1971), The Long Good Friday (1980), Mona Lisa (1986), The Krays (1990), Sexy Beast (2000), Legend (2015), and many more, represent the dark and brutal face of hard-nut masculinity and the profession of violence. Enter the new Sky drama, Gangs of London (2020), which over nine episodes pitches itself as a similarly stern contemporary gangster fable, but with lashings of explosive action set-pieces, savage fisticuffs and a few severed hands thrown in for good measure.

From the opening scene — which finds heir apparent to the Wallace Corporation, Sean (Joe Cole), burning alive and dropping a low-level hoodie off a sky-scraping construction building — the brutal tone is set. Flashbacks then reveal the reason for Sean’s ire. His father, Finn (Colm Meaney), was murdered while on the Albanian mafia’s turf and thus he demands revenge. So far, so Hamlet! Yet, this is no singular character’s journey into the psychological depths of real or invented madness. Mostly, we find a sprawling, multicultural and international ensemble piece with the world of crime represented by aforementioned Albanians, Nigerians, Kurdish freedom fighters, Chinese gangs, Pakistani drug cartels, Welsh travellers and various other criminal elements.

While there is some soul searching for Sean as Finn Wallace’s buried secrets are latterly exposed within the drama, this is very much a symbolic and sadistic manifestation of Brexit. Moreover, it critiques the rise of gangster culture from the mean capital streets into the corporate boardroom. The Wallace’s billion-pound construction business acts as a front for money laundering, drugs deals, prostitution, people smuggling, gun-running and other nefarious crimes. Business has never been so good; that is until Finn Wallace is killed. Henceforth, all hell breaks loose on the streets of London and the police, who all seem to be in the pockets of the gangs, are unable or unwilling to control it.



The gangster genre can be a challenge for writers, directors and actors as they attempt to sidestep the cliches. Moreover, these stories predominantly show violent and amoral characters attacking or cheating or back-stabbing one another. Thus, it can be difficult to create empathy for such nasty people. Nonetheless, given the continued success of such narratives, the anti-heroic ensemble represented by the likes of the Wallace, Dumani, Afridi, Dushaj and Edwards’ families, among others, give the audience plenty to get our teeth into. There are so many different characters, motives, actions and desires on show that the sheer pace and twists in the narrative can leave one breathless. That isn’t to say the pace is rapid. There is a brooding suspense and grave depth to the overall direction. At times the drama, as well as the casting of Michelle Fairley (Lady Stark), reminded me of Game of Thrones in crime form. It gives us high-quality genre storytelling interspersed with some incredibly violent fight scenes and shoot-outs. It doesn’t quite have the heroes that Games of Thrones had though. The closest we get to a rootable character is Sope Dirisu’s low-level enforcer, Elliott Finch, who has a big secret to hold onto. Dirisu gives a powerful performance both emotionally and physically as he fights his way up the Wallace chain of command.

Gangs of London (2020) was created by Gareth Evans and Matt Flannery for Cinemax and Sky Studios. Evans, of course, is the talented Welsh filmmaker who had to go all the way to Indonesia and direct Merantau (2009), The Raid (2011) and The Raid 2 (2014), in order to make a name for himself in the film industry. He is a director with a special set of skills, especially when it comes to the knuckle-breaking and heart-stabbing fight sequences. Thus, the episodes he directs stand out among the best of the series. Notably Episodes 1 and 5, which feature an incredible bare-knuckled-table-leg-glass-in-the-face bar fracas and a bloody-mercenary-raid-on-a- country-farmhouse set-piece respectively. The remainder of the series arguably pales a little where the action is concerned, however, there remains some shockingly grotesque acts of violence as the corpses mount up the further the series proceeds. Indeed, as Sean Wallace attempts to locate his father’s killer and order from the chaos, he will find little in the way of salvation, redemption and satisfaction in the life of a London gangster. If only he’d watched more crime films, he’d know that already.

Mark: 9 out of 11



CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984)

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984)

Directed by: Sergio Leone

Produced by: Arnon Milchan

Screenplay by: Sergio Leone, Leonardo Benvenuti, Piero De Bernardi, Enrico Medioli, Franco Arcalli, Franco Ferrini

Based on: The Hoods by Harry Grey

Cast: Robert De Niro, James Woods, William Forsythe, Jennifer Connelly, Elizabeth McGovern, Joe Pesci, Burt Young, Tuesday Weld, Treat Williams, William Forsythe, Richard Bright, James Hayden, Brian Bloom, William Forsythe, Adrian Curran, Darlanne Fluegel. Larry Rapp, Mike Monetti, Richard Foronji, Robert Harper, Dutch Miller, Gerard Murphy, Amy Ryder, Julie Cohen etc.  

Music: Ennio Morricone

Cinematography: Tonino Delli Colli


***CONTAINS PLOT SPOILERS***



If you were, like me, thoroughly absorbed by Martin Scorsese’s recent directorial gangster epic, The Irishman (2019), you should definitely check out another incredible gangster drama, Once Upon A Time in America (1984). It is directed by acclaimed Italian filmmaker, Sergio Leone, he of “Spaghetti Western” fame. Indeed, Once Upon A Time in America (1984), was the first feature film he’d made since A Fistful of Dynamite (1971). Sadly, it was to be his final film.

With a director’s cut running at a behemoth 250 minutes and original theatrical release lasting 229 minutes, Once Upon A Time in America (1984), is certainly a marathon viewing experience and fitting epitaph to Leone’s cinematic craft. Yet, the film rarely feels over-long or slow because there are so many memorable scenes, fascinatingly complex characterisations, incredible intrigue and enough narrative density present to satisfy any audience member with the patience to let it absorb you. Structurally, the film is epic in nature too as it cross-cuts between three, arguably four, separate timelines in: 1918, the 1920’s, the 1930’s and 1968. Interestingly, I watched it via Amazon Prime in two sittings and is so long even the original ‘Intermission’ card remains.



Leone and his amazing production cast and crew took almost a year to film Once Upon A Time in America (1984). It’s reported to have had somewhere between eight to ten hours of footage on completion. He originally wanted to release it as a two-part epic, but the studio insisted it was distributed as one film. The almost-four hour theatrical release was received to great critical acclaim in Europe, however, a severely chopped down 139-minute version was put out in America. It was a critical and box office bomb. American critics however, lauded the European version, lamenting the non-release of Leone’s full cinematic vision.

For a filmmaker who was drawn to stories set in the America, Leone would generally film in European studios and locations. While some exteriors for Once Upon A Time in America (1984) were shot on location in Florida and New York, many of the interiors were recreated in Rome’s Cinecitta. Furthermore, a Manhattan restaurant was built in Venice, and incredibly, Grand Central Station was rendered at part of the Gare du Nord in Paris. Having said that, Once Upon A Time in America (1984), is so carefully and exquisitely designed and filmed, you would not notice. While possessing more than an air of European arthouse sensibilities, the film, based on a novel called The Hoods, represents Leone’s and his co-screenwriter’s tarnished vision of the American dream. Most significantly is the theme of a loss of innocence. 1920’s New York is presented through the eyes of these Jewish working-class children, many of them sons and daughter of migrants from Europe. These are tough times and the story explores the collision between young innocence and adult corruption by society and humanity. Once Upon A Time in America (1984) is also a story about friendship, loyalty, passion and crime.



The narrative revolves around the lives of young gang of Jewish friends growing up in Brooklyn called: Noodles, Max, Patsy, Cockeye and little Dominic. It’s majestic storytelling of the highest quality as we flit between past, present, now and future. Robert DeNiro’s older Noodles reminisces both from 1930 and 1968. There is a sense that he may be projecting from the hazy and drug-addled glow of an opium den. That is open to interpretation though. Thematically, the framework hangs a history of childhood friendships, juxtaposing it with the same people as adults and their victories, losses and betrayals. Further themes include: love, lust, greed, crime, broken relationships, Prohibition, union corruption; as well as focusing on the rise of mobsters in American society.

Noodles as portrayed by an imperious Robert DeNiro is calm on the outside, however, his often-rash actions show him as impetuous, emotional and wild on the inside. James Woods’ Max is much more careful, calculating and ice-cold in his business. But the two forge a friendship as teenagers which continues in adulthood. Their childhood gang subsequently becomes a renowned bootlegging and criminal outfit. Leone does not ask us to like or find sympathy for the characters, but rather respect that they are a product of a ruthless era. Sure, they could have got day jobs, but they decide to become criminals and very successful they are too. Even after Noodles gets out of jail for killing a rival, Max has saved a place for him in their illegal liquor trades. Only later does the true deception occur. Ultimately, while their stories are incredibly compelling, these men are violent lawbreakers who spill blood, bribe, threaten, kill and rape, all in an attempt to rise up the ladder of the American capitalist system.

I don’t want to spoil any more of the story, but safe to say the cast in this classic film are amazing. Along with DeNiro and Woods’ brutally convincing performances a whole host of young and older actors are directed beautifully by Leone’s careful hand. The standouts for me are Jennifer Connelly in a very early role. She portrays the younger Deborah, while Elizabeth McGovern is the older version of the same character. Connelly is a picture of angelic innocence and Noodles is smitten with her from the beginning. It’s sad therefore that when the adult Noodles’ is rejected by Deborah, his reaction is both toxic and unforgiveable.



Undeniably, sex and violence are powerful features in Once Upon A Time in America (1984). Sex especially is rarely, if at all, romantic or part of loving relationship. There are two brutal rape scenes in the adult years. Even when they are kids the character of younger Peggy is shown to use her promiscuity as a weapon to blackmail a police officer. There are some tender moments though, notably during the scene where young Patsy seeks to lose his virginity with Peggy. Her payment would be a cream cake, but Brian eats the cake and saves his innocence. Yet such scenes are fleeting as mob rule, violent robberies, fiery death and murder ultimately dominate the character’s bloody existences.

As I say, the actors all give memorable performances and the supporting cast including the likes of Treat Williams, Danny Aiello, Tuesday Weld and Joe Pesci are extremely strong too. A special mention to James Hayden who portrays the older Patsy. He doesn’t have the most dialogue compared to the characters of Max and Noodles; however, he has a quiet power which steals many scenes via strength of personality. The fact that Hayden died of a heroin overdose, in 1983, after completing filming only adds to the cult of tragedy. Dead at 30 years of age, James Hayden never got to see any completed version of Once Upon A Time in America (1984).

Given this review is getting near epic proportions itself I will begin to wrap up by heaping praise on the incredible production design. The costumes, locations, vehicles, props and era are slavishly and beautifully recreated. So much so you can almost smell the smoke as it drifts up from the Brooklyn streets. Moreover, the film is superbly photographed by Tonino Delli Colli. The music! I haven’t even mentioned the sumptuous score by the legendary Ennio Morricone. His score is a masterful symphony of haunting laments for loss of love, friendship, loyalty and life. Much indeed like Once Upon A Time in America (1984) itself, as a whole. In conclusion, if you haven’t seen it, I urge you to do so in the knowledge that Sergio Leone has transplanted that same brutally elegant vision of the Wild West to the American gangster genre with unforgettable emotional resonance and power.