Dir. Gerard Johnson
The Edinburgh International Film Festival is renowned for programming an eclectic mix of domestic and international films and giving a chance to films that might not have an immediate audience. Director and writer Gerard Johnson’s Hyena has been awarded the honour of opening the EIFF for 2014. It’s a curious choice giving the lack of ‘star power’ for a red carpet occasion. Nevertheless a good film is not determined by who happens to be in it.
Hyena whets the audiences intrigue with a slow motioned nonchalant raid in a London strip club led by Michael (Peter Ferdinando) and his three man crew geared in police body armour and batons who go in and batter the crap out of some unsuspecting characters in a questionable strip bar. It’s a not too bad stylised open that makes you think that there might be a more unique slant to an over-familiar London based film about gang wars, corrupt police, drugs prostitutes and a bit of gratuitous violence. Unfortunately that notion becomes short lived, as it doesn’t take long to establish this is a film lacking in any real positive traits.
Michael heads a small drugs task force, who seem untouchable for getting the results. But they’re more seemingly part of the problem than the solution. One of Michael’s major drug investments goes pair shaped after some brutal Albanians who are taking over the territory, butcher his contact to death. To keep the deal alive, Michael weaves his way into partnering up with the Albanians, by turning a blind eye on their dealings. But that idea goes pair shaped when Michael is moved to another task force concerning human trafficking under a new boss who he shares a bitter history with, but his main problem is that they’re after his new business associates. Whilst also under the scrutiny of internal affairs, Michael’s world is one of pressure at every turn, with his old crew feeling neglected and betrayed, Michael finds himself drowning and potentially out of his depth.
Whilst there is a good deal of tension in the film but it is somewhat mainly hampered by a main character who is not really likable or all that interesting. There is an attempt to show Michael with redeemable qualities by saving a girl under the Albanians who is sold into prostitution to another gang. But it all comes too late and furthermore Michael caused the horror of her predicament.
Despite the gratuitous violence, this is a film that feels like it is tripping over clichés rather than achieving a sense of authenticity and there is more to be said for the art of subtlety than blunt force trauma the director has decided to employ. There are comparisons to Kill List but unlike that film it is without the psychological unnerving that film leaves an audience with. The production values were of a real shoddy standard too. I was questioning my own hearing during the film but after speaking to an expert in film sound he confirmed the sound production was rather inadequate. Flat dialogue, dreary visuals, accompanied with acting performances that don’t leave you to really shout about and to top it all a major plot hole at the end, no spoilers here, it really begs the question why this film was selected to open the film festival?