It would be easy to dismiss this film as mindless tosh with a shallow attempt at deep subtext, but that would be way too easy.
This is a hard man's film. Unlike other attempts (Get Carter, McVicar, the more-recent Kray brothers film), it feels almost like watching found-footage. The reasons are two-fold: Reed and McShane. Reed surpasses his usual scenery-chewing with moments of stillness so menacing that he joins Di Nero in 'Taxi Driver,' Michael Rooker in 'Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer' and Ben Kingsley in 'Sexy Beast' as truly terrifying. Far from over-the-top his moments of rage seem real, psychotic, and literally beyond his control.
McShane, however, is a revelation to those who know him mainly from his more recent successes. His nasty, pared-down, pattering con is far more believable than many characters in similar roles in American crime flicks. He is in many ways the real snake in the grass.
Finlay surpasseth all understanding as a sleazy tout. Again, compared to villains in films of the 'Shaft' or 'Dirty Harry' genre, his sleazy crook Marty is a whole character, not a two-dimensional cliché. One even feels a bit sorry for him.
The entire film is worth a look for the jail-break scene alone. I'd love to see this one on the big screen. It's an exploitation film that, like Lee Marvin's 'Point Blank,' is more than the sum of its parts.
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