12 November 2009 | Ali_John_Catterall
Tough yet warm-hearted Britcrime offering
Gentleman Jack (Stott), his edgy right-hander Steve (Moran), sexy self-styled moll Jenny (Ashfield) and stoner Goat (Monaghan) pull elaborate cons on wannabe villains, buoyed by the motto: "You can't cheat an honest man". Victims include O'Brien, played by Kaye as a lisping ne'er-do-well with a silly haircut and a penchant for cash machine fraud, and nice-but-dim Nigel (Dee), owner of an ailing haulage company.
But Jack and Co. find themselves in deep water after they attempt to steal the latter's office equipment and drive it away in a 'borrowed' lorry which turns out to be full of Albanian human traffic. When the immigrants scarper, a little brother and sister are left behind. Grudgingly, Jack becomes their unofficial guardian - but is closely trailed by some murderous parties, while Steve and Jenny, intent on closing that mythical long con, walk headlong into harm.
Spivs initially hoodwinks audiences into assuming it's something that it's not, featuring the usual checklist of East End settings, shady characters and slang ("What do you think I am, some kind of meat-puppet?") which must be included by law in all contemporary British crime flicks.
However, it soon reveals itself to be both a textured character-study of a drowning middle-aged man yearning for redemption, and a harrowing expose of the illegal immigrant / underage sex slave trade.
That the slapstick and tragic elements mostly hang together bears testament to a well-plotted, well-researched script (occasionally sentimental, though never mawkish), along with an immensely touching central performance by Stott. It's rare and refreshing in these kinds of films to find a late fortysomething taking precedence over two young hipsters like Moran and Ashfield. Fine support too from Bassett as Jack's tough-talking sister Vee.
A modern Brit crime movie sporting substance over style? It must be a con!