Saturday, May 2, 2015

Movie Reviews: Hyena

directed by Gerard Johnson
The evil that police do has been in the news a lot of late. In some communities it's never far from people's minds. Whether it's killing people, beating them, robbing them or even going into business with other criminals, a few bent cops can do a lot of harm to a society precisely because society is not designed to protect itself from the police. Hyena is not really interested in the larger societal issues around police brutality and corruption but rather stays focused on the internal and individual costs of such activity, primarily to the corrupt cops. In this way the film is almost a homage to such flicks as Bad Lieutenant, Filth or Rampart. Other than a few of the victims there aren't too many sympathetic people here. The default "hero" who has his conscience jogged may be as much motivated by lust or ethnic prejudice as by anything else. This film also serves as a reunion of sorts for the two leads from Kill List, though they are decidedly secondary players here. The accents aren't that bad or more likely I've just gotten used to them. More than the story what I liked about Hyena was the settings, cinematography and lighting. 

The film uses all of this to ooze griminess and realism. The leads are mostly not square jawed white toothed heroes nor are they people who would automatically invite distrust once you see them on screen. They are very realistic middle aged men who may have had a few too many rich dinners over the years. Many of them are going to seed physically. But of course generally speaking they don't have to rely on physical brawn to intimidate people. They're cops. Most of the people they brutalize or steal from are not going to have the guts to fight back. The cops know this and revel in it. Their badge is literally a license to do whatever they want to do.

Over the past few decades the UK has greatly changed demographically. This is particularly true of London. Some "indigenous" English aren't too thrilled about this but that's another post. One Englishman who shrugs and deals the best he can with the changed social milieu is the West London narcotics detective Michael Logan (Peter Ferdinando). Although he's not averse to beating up and robbing addicts before arresting them, Logan's primary source of income comes from providing protection and information to the local branch of the Turkish mob.

He's friendly with the local boss and associates. Well times change don't they. As Logan attends a restaurant meeting with his Turkish counterpart a raid occurs. Thinking it's some stupid cops he didn't bribe, Michael hides in a nearby closet. That was a wise decision for the wrong reasons. The local Albanian mafia has decided to move up the food chain. They have indicated this desire by bursting into the Turkish restaurant and killing everyone they see. The two Albanian leaders, the Kabashi Brothers (Orli Shuka and Gjevat Kelmendi) hack apart Logan's Turkish contact. This puts into motion a chain of events that finds Logan working with the Kabashi Brothers and helping them to thrive in the narcotics underworld. That's his plan anyway. The brothers aren't entirely convinced they need Logan's help. They've been very successful on their own just by speaking softly and carrying sharp machetes. 

An opportunistic scumbag like Logan wants to find blackmail worthy information on new partners. His bumbling efforts convince the Kabashis that an employee, Ariana (Elisa Lasowski), is telling tales out of school. Meanwhile an internal affairs watchdog (Richard Dormer) is sniffing around Logan and his detective crew. Logan's former partner (Boardwalk Empire's Stephen Graham) has just become his new boss. The stress strains Logan's relationships with his street smart girlfriend Lisa (MyAnna Buring) and his buddy Martin (Neil Maskell). I thought Buring deserved a larger role.

This movie had its violent spots but was rarely gratuitous. There was one completely unnecessary sex scene that I probably didn't need to see. Because there aren't any good guys in this film if you must have that sort of framework to enjoy a story then this probably isn't the movie for you. The director doesn't give viewers an easy way out or tie up everything in a big nice bow for them. Although I wouldn't go so far as to say they stole the film, the new actors Shuka and Kelmendi provide suitable mostly understated intensity as the Kabashi Brothers. They are not people you want to cross. 

They don't speak much but are very watchful. The larger (younger?) brother speaks no English but manages to guess most people's intentions just by their body language and vocal inflection. This story was inspired in part by conversations that the director had with corrupt cops or other people who occasionally crossed the line. This is a powerful British drama anchored by Ferdinando's turn as a sweaty drug abuser with a dying conscience who happens to be a skilled detective. 

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