"That's what this life's really like. Because in this game, no one's got a quick answer for anything. No one's in a sharp suit. No one's funny. No one's smart."—Gilly
It's become fairly obvious that studio executives and marketing types wish in the marrow of their bones that Guy Ritchie could direct every single British gangster flick. Shooters is a case in point. The tagline on the front of the DVD keep case reads: "In the tradition of Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels." Co-directors Glenn Dufort and Colin Teague must've been thrilled when they read that considering their film is not at all in the Ritchie tradition. Shooters is more realist, somber, character-driven, and less visually aggressive than Mr. Madonna's cartoonish—albeit ferociously entertaining—shoot-'em-ups. (For the record, I love Lock, Stock and Snatch, so please don't write me defending Ritchie; it's the co-opting of his style by lesser filmmakers that I find distasteful.) If the front cover mention of Ritchie's film left me cold, the fact the movie itself opens with a patented Tarantino low-angle car trunk-view shot did nothing to assuage fears I was in for a dull and derivative time. To my surprise, after a couple minutes, the flick began to win me over.
The story concerns a gangster named Gilly (Louis Dempsey), recently paroled after doing six years for a murder committed by his lifelong pal, J (Andrew Howard, Band of Brothers). During Gilly's incarceration, J married a girl named Marie (Melanie Lynskey, Heavenly Creatures) and they have a young son. It's the sort of pedestrian life Gilly longs for, though J doesn't appreciate having achieved it. Gilly's immediately sucked back into his old lifestyle when he learns J, now an enforcer and low-level dealer for an Irish drug and weapon kingpin named Max Bell (Adrian Dunbar, The Crying Game), has used Gilly's share of the loot from their last job to buy submachine guns in order to deal them for profit. J and Gilly put the smackdown on a couple of Max's recalcitrant debtors while they await the arrival of the Scot (Gerard Butler, Reign Of Fire) to whom they're to sell the weapons. Max, meanwhile, is in cahoots with a corrupt and ambitious female cop (Emma Fielding) who wants a fall guy in the deal, a crook she can hand over to her superiors. When Max orders J to sell out Gilly, he has to decide if he'll let his best friend take the fall for him again.
Any plot description is bound to make the film sound like a run-of-the-mill British gangster flick, and Shooters certainly is a genre piece, but run-of-the-mill it ain't. It has the eccentric characters whose individual motivations, greed, and business relationships with one another create the serpentine alliances and double-crosses that deliver unexpected twists and turns, but plot descriptions can't describe how satisfyingly textured those relationships are, especially that of Gilly and J. The film flips the usual gangster convention of a caper complicated by friendship on its head, instead telling the story of a friendship complicated by dead-end criminality. Yet Dufort and Teague never lose sight of the fact they're making a genre piece. As a matter of fact, Shooters' uniqueness isn't the substance of its characterizations on the written page so much as the performances the directors elicit from their actors. Particularly impressive are Andrew Howard as J, and Melanie Lynskey as his wife, Marie. Howard's deeply emotional, entirely believable performance inspires our pity for a character who is fundamentally stupid, selfish, and, worst of all, reckless with the lives of the people who love him and to whom he ought to be most loyal. J's a character we could easily hate since he's the primary obstacle and danger to Gilly, the film's narrator, but Howard infuses him with such pathos he becomes the star of the film. Similarly, Lynskey plays the age-old girlfriend-who-wants-to-go-legit role with a perfect mix of emotional naïveté and working-class street smarts. Such roles are deceptively simple: improperly handled (as they often are), they leave the audience wondering why on earth such a woman would be attached to a criminal slug in the first place. Lynskey's honest vulnerability (coupled with Howard's sympathetic performance) leaves no such questions. We pity her her dire straits. Like Marie herself, we're hesitant to admit to ourselves that her belief in a normal life with J is self-deception.
If the film has a glaring flaw, it's the climax and denouement. After a shoot-out that sneaks in homage to the Coen brothers' Blood Simple, and a final twist that wants to stun like The Usual Suspects but doesn't come close, we're left with an capper that's unsatisfying because, in the end, we feel little connection to Gilly. Still, it functions acceptably within the confines of the genre, is a logical conclusion to the plot, and doesn't violate the natures of the characters involved. In other words, its weakness is forgivable.
Lions Gate offers Shooters on DVD in a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. The image lacks detail and is grainy as all get out. Blacks are muddy, but colors are otherwise fairly accurate. The print from which the transfer was struck is riddled with pocks and specks. Some of the DVD's flaws most certainly result from the production's budget constraints (the heavy amount of grain may be a limitation in the film stock used), but some of it is also a sloppy transfer to the digital realm.
The Dolby stereo audio is much more satisfactory than the video. It's a clean presentation of the source, with good bass response in the score. Dialogue isn't constantly crisp and clear, but shifts in quality are from the source, which has exactly the sorts of limitations one would expect from a low-budget film shot on the fly.
The only extra is a trailer.
If you're a fan of British gangster flicks, try Shooters. It offers some excellent performances, and is a rare entry in the genre that doesn't try to ape Guy Ritchie. It's a surprisingly raw and honest treat.
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