As you may have seen in my archives, I had already reviewed the very first instalment of this ”crime saga” a few years ago, and I feel that it is remiss of me not to have given the second and third offerings their fair appraisal. With the release of the FOURTH film only a couple of months ago, I am declining to author my usual Friday piece in which I break down personal favourites, and to instead use my time to make an impassioned plea to any and all involved with the production and distribution of these films: Stop it. Right now.
The very first Rise Of The Footsoldier, released in 2007, wasn’t even worth making in the first place. The true events behind the film had already been adapted for the narrative of 2000’s Essex Boys, a film which, while not being amazing, was nevertheless a solid gangland thriller with an excellent Sean Bean performance as coke-addled psychopath Jason Locke, an analogue of real-life arsehole Pat Tate. It was a believable and solidly paced thriller, there was absolutely no necessity in another big-screen spin on the same story. But they did it. They made Rise Of The Footsoldier, Bonded By Blood, The Fall Of The Essex Boys, Essex Boys: Retribution, Essex Boys: Law of Survival, Rise of the Footsoldier: Part 2, Bonded By Blood 2, and Rise of the Footsoldier 3. Are you beginning to get my point?
Everyone knows the fucking story, as they’ve been battered around the head with it nearly 10 different times. And it’s not even particularly interesting. Three horrible bullies made their living dealing drugs, and were notorious for picking on civilians and other drug dealers who wouldn’t fight back, until they pissed off bigger fish and all got shot to death down a snowy country lane in Essex in 1995. That’s it. This isn’t Scorcese/Pileggi material we’re talking about here. I can empathise with some degree of fascination in the fact that the men currently in prison for it were convicted on the basis of a pathological liar’s testimony, and even experts have speculated that the real killers never saw a day inside a prison cell, but enough is enough. As an enormous fan of crime films, I have felt violated in every instance that I had made the moronic decision to give one of these cinematic abominations a chance, though I was fully aware of the kind of thing I was in for when I read ‘Goodfellas in Kent’ on the DVD cover of Dave Courtney vehicle Full English Breakfast. An entirely unconnected film, but one that’s made in the same spirit of celebrating the possession of a double-digit I.Q.
Rise Of The Footsoldier was an incoherent mess narratively, abruptly switching from a rather tedious and less-than-credible biopic of Carlton Leach, a football hooligan-cum-bouncer-cum-drug dealer, to an examination of the conspiracy theories surrounding the killings of his friends Tony Tucker, Pat Tate and Craig Rolfe (supposedly, Leach’s friendship with them wasn’t even as close as depicted on-screen). With the exception of Craig Fairbrass, the entire thing was an omnishambles of terrible acting and shitty editing, and the discarding of Leach’s story in favour of the events of Rettendon make absolutely no sense cinematically, regardless of whether or not the murders had a considerable impact on his life. But it’s not even the worst film in the series, because the sequel and following two prequels drastically exaggerate the relevance of all four men in the criminal underworld of Essex.
the second instalment, imaginatively titled Rise Of The Footsoldier Part II but coming with the subtitle Reign Of The General (Oh, fuck off), features Ricci Harnett again playing Leach, but this time we have the added bonus of him in the director’s chair, and it shows. Carlton is all silly and fucked up after the shotgun annihilation of his three wonderful boyfriends, and sets about trying to regain some kind of foothold amongst the local criminal fraternity. None of the events depicted on-screen appear to have much verification outside of Leach’s head, and it is an utterly forgettable experience overall. I had forgotten I’d even seen it until I was asked my opinion a couple of days later. It tries to be clever in places, particularly with a bizarre appearance from Steven Berkoff, but it didn’t cut any mustard whatsoever. If Harnett had actually attempted to do something original with his first stint in the big seat, he could have created something semi-competent. Well, probably not, but I can’t write off what doesn’t exist.
The third instalment, Rise Of The Footsoldier 3: The Pat Tate Story, is the one that I feel compelled to write most positively about because it sincerely had me laughing to the point of pain for the entirety of its 100-minute runtime. This film doesn’t appear to take itself seriously in the slightest, and is a barrage of hilariously excessive profanity and extreme violence that appears to have to been made by Guy Ritchie’s mentally slow, crystal meth-addicted brother. This prequel to the first two movies ramps up Tate’s actual life as a steroid-addicted, low-level drug dealer and bullying idiot to some kind of English Tony Montana, bulldozing his way around Spain after fleeing there in a daring courthouse escape, before being extradited back to the U.K. and cutting a fearless path of destruction in prison. Again, it is all complete horseshit, and the only things it has going for it are unintentionally comedic violence and swearing, but I certainly wasn’t cringing as much as the viewing of the previous two films. The painful attempts at drama are thankfully absent here.
Rise Of The Footsoldier 4: Marbella. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. No, seriously. You can view that as lazy if you want, but I’m not going to waste my time replicating the previous paragraph with minuscule tweaks. They just do the same thing all over again, but the things that happened in the last one don’t occur at precisely the same time they occur in this one, and the same actors who played the same roles come in at different points to do more or less of the same thing. It amused me the third time around, on this occasion I was just plain fucking annoyed and bored.
The point is that these films are diabolical. I would understand its immediate appeal if I were at a stag do or having a night in getting pissed and stoned with some mates and we all fancied a bit of a laugh, but that isn’t always the case. It’s just a cash cow fiasco wildly extrapolating the no-mark story of three wannabe morons to ludicrous proportions, as there are plenty of simpletons out there with mindsets similar to those depicted on-screen, who are under the impression that they’re watching the British equivalent of Scorcese or Coppola and will relentlessly flock in droves to watch each new awful addition. As much as I enjoy the clever silliness of the likes of Lock, Stock & Snatch, great British gangster films ended with Mona Lisa. As I said, more than 5 years ago now, I don’t hero-worship the likes of Henry Hill and his buddies in Goodfellas, nor Jack Carter or Harold Shand, but their stories were brilliantly constructed and genuinely portrayed an intense world of constantly high-stakes, and these men didn’t have delusions about being something that they were not (Well, respectability being the possible exception). None of that applies to the Rise Of The Footsoldier series, any of the other Essex Boys-related films or most British gangland films in recent years for that matter. Come on, lads. Chuck this shit in the bin and use your brains. You never know how far it might get you.
As an addendum, if you think I might be talking out of my arse, or are generally just interested, read this article by Bernard O’Mahoney, an ex-mobster who actually knew all of these characters. https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/5gjqka/bernard-omahoney-why-im-finally-telling-the-truth-about-the-britains-most-notorious-gangland-murder