October 27, 2005
Starring: Ken Stott, Nick Moran, Kate Ashfield, Jack Dee, Paul Kaye, Dominic Monaghan, Linda Bassett, Elizabeth Berrington, Cavan Clerkin, Louis Dempsey, Glenn Durfort, Tamer Hassan, Rita Ora, ,
Cockney grifter Ken Stott gets more than he bargains for when a routine truck hijack leaves him with two refugee children to take care of.
Seven years. That’s how long ago Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels appeared and gave the British film industry another nudge up the food chain. Sadly this meant that every other new British film from then on was a variation on the cockney crime caper, and at first Spivs seems to follow this tried and tested formula. But like one of Jack’s scams, all is not as it appears and we find we have quite a different beast on our hands.
If you can stick out the first twenty minutes of the film, which follows Stott’s Jack and his team of Steve and Jenny (Moran and Ashfield) as they rip off gullible marks and bicker amongst themselves, then you are rewarded with a much darker, more involving story that revolves around two refugee children in a truck who end up fracturing the group dynamic. Jack warns Steve that getting into a relationship with thrill-seeker Jenny is dangerous and will not be tolerated, but when he abandons his partners in crime to find a home for the lost children, his partners decide to go into business for themselves.
Stott is no stranger to dark characters after his excellent work on TV series The Vice and, once you get used to him talking like Bob Hoskins, here he delivers a wonderfully layered performance that flits from cheeky geezer to heartless monster and everything in-between whilst somehow still keeping us engaged with the character. He’s helped by the great child actors who, refreshingly, aren’t your typical doe-eyed Bambis, and like Stott they earn your respect through the course of the story. In comparison, Moran and Ashfield’s characters are one-dimensional (but there’s even a decent resolution for this), and the less said about Dominic Monaghan’s brain-splittingly annoying character “Goat” the better, although seeing Merry from Lord of the Rings curse explosively as he receives a kick to the family jewels does hold a certain amusement value.
The direction is refreshingly low-key, allowing us to follow the characters rather than have flashy MTV visuals giving you a headache, but the flipside of this is that you wonder why Spivs was a movie and not a one-off TV programme. It certainly would have done better after The Bill than being unfairly listed in the British Gangsta Movie Cliche book of horrors. If the makers had had the courage to correctly market the film as a low-key drama rather than a trashy cockney larf riot then they might have won, if not a bigger audience, then at least some critical praise. This won’t change your world, and wait for it to turn up on TV, but chances are you’ll end up liking Spivs a lot more than you might have thought thanks to some great performances and a couple of clever surprises.
There’s a cheap but cheerful making of, the misleading trailer and a commentary by director Colin Teague. Amiable.