Ah, the tortured history of the urban gangster thriller. Back in the 1930s, films like Little Caeser were reknowned for their gritty realism and street tough language, frequently re-telling real events and featuring genuine historical characters. Through the 40s and 50s, the influence of French literature and German expressionist lighting led crime cinema further and further into abstraction and stylisation.
With the 60s and 70s films of Jean-Pierre Melville – and perhaps even more so with the early films of Jean-Jacques Beineix in the 80s – there is a sense any reference to an external reality has been finally relinquished. The films now refer purely to other films (and, increasingly, at least in the case of Beineix, comics). By the time we get to the work of Quentin Tarantino in the 90s, any sense of realism is now derived purely from the adherence to conventions set up in other films, and there is truly nothing outside the text. After Tarantino, the glut of tired cash-ins that followed like an unstoppable pest and culminated in the grinding misery of the late 90s Brit gangster flick are capable of nothing but hollow pastiche, drained even of the weakest of humour. Little Caeser had become Lock Stock, and by this point most comics began to look like documentaries by comparison.
Now, in a further twist, Perrier's Bounty is a film whose entire cinematic language is derived from the early work of Guy Ritchie. A film so far removed, not just from "reality" but also "culture", that one can scarcely believe it to be the work of a human being. Somewhere hidden away, Mark O'Rowe must have designed a machine called auto-formulaic-macho-thriller-generator-o-matic. No doubt within weeks there'll be hundreds of them, clogging up the multiplexes, gathering just enough ebullience from FHM and Hot Dog to smear on their posters, and finally coating the digital TV bandwidth with a kind of beige vulgarity. Cillian Murphy spends most of this one alternating between pursing his lips like he's posing for his new Spotlight photo and pulling a series of improbable WWF holds, surrounded by big dogs and loud gunshots, the whole thing giving off the distinct impression of impotent showboating, a eunuch, high on cocaine, boasting loudly of his enormous member whilst oiling and flexing his own limp muscles.
Hilariously, Murphy notes in the film's press release: "It's not conventional, there's fighting, dogs, guns, beatings and baseball bats." Really? A film with fighting in it? And guns? Well, jeez, guys, you're really pushing the boat out there. I presume this is one for the "experimental" section of the video shop? You mean to say, you want to put this on a mainstream cinema? Are you sure audiences are ready for such daring feats of nonconformism? Guns in a film? It'll never work. It did gain one star for containing Jim Broadbent, but sadly lost it again for filling the soundtrack up with a bunch of last year's Mercury nominees. A distinctly workaday effort, the cinematic equivalent of a report filed on some trivial aspect of fiscal policy in an obscure government department. No doubt audiences will flock to it in their droves.