By Kristin Battestella
I heard the Goodfellas comparison when I first discovered the 2000 British crime thriller Essex Boys. I didn’t think it possible. Nothing compares to Goodfellas, not even The Godfather III. With a fine cast, brutal violence, and a twisted story based on factual events, Essex Boys is indeed the height of English gangster flicks.
When Jason Locke (Sean Bean) is released from his five year prison term, he quickly returns to his criminal ways. Unfortunately, his drug dealing crew has moved up the crime and social ladders without him. His abused wife Lisa (Alex Kingston) in tow, Locke assembles a new dealing crew and product by threatening former prison compatriot John Dyke (Tom Wilkinson). Locke’s driver Billy (Charlie Creed-Miles) ends up cleaning one mess after another, and soon neither he nor Jason can escape the vile twists and turns of crime in
Based on real life criminal events, Essex Boys serves up a complex story of drug dealing love, loyalty, and betrayal. Some of it is very English, and very
Now, as much as women go gaga over rough and tumble Sean Bean (Goldeneye, The Fellowship of the Ring), his performance as Jason Locke is not for everyone. He has the range and talent for a wide variety of roles, but we must admit that Bean does villains best. After spending years on television as Napoleonic hero Sharpe, Bean went to extremes here to revitalize his vile film persona. His acid loving, drug using, rapacious-wife beating-crook is so lush and detailed and spot on that it can really put off even the most Bean inclined viewer. Locke drinks and goes crazy, but has a mastery of weapons, women, and brutality. It’s a strong, heavy role that’s sick and sexy in its own way. Thoughts that Bean must have gone to a very dark acting place to achieve this grit are never far behind in Essex Boys. Most actors could not- or would not- say or do some of the things portrayed here. Even my Dad (who won’t watch Sharpe because he can’t picture Bean as a good guy) agrees that this is one of Bean’s hardest hitting performances among his plethora of villains.
Alex Kingston is not a traditional beauty to me, and that serves her well here. There aren’t many strong roles for older women in the
I’ve seen Tom Wilkinson in a variety of roles, from The Full Monty to The Patriot. He continually surprises me with his talent and mix of humor and drama. Wilkinson has plenty of films to his credit, but I wish he did more stateside. It’s great to see him and Sean Bean onscreen together, even if it’s a violent, uneasy alliance between the two. There is a bit of dark humor in Essex Boys, but its so sardonic and even disturbing that it would actually not be funny if it weren’t for Wilkinson’s charm.
Amid all this crime and betrayal, Charlie Creed-Miles’ (The Power and the Passion of Charles II) Billy is the perfect everyman. He’s just trying to make some money and keep his girl, but he quickly sinks into an inescapable life once he meets Jason Locke. The audience can relate to Billy, yet we can see how he changes through the course of the film. He’s a little stupid or at least naïve to start, but by the end of the film, Billy knows all the criminal ins and outs. Holly Davidson (Causality-but more famously known as Sadie Frost’s sister) also does well in a relatively small but critical role as the object of Jason Locke’s bizarre affections. The cast is quite well rounded; and although we’re lead to believe Sean Bean is the star, nothing in Essex Boys is truly what it seems.
While Essex Boys has fine action sequences, shoot outs, and chases to supplement its intricate plot and storyline, the look of the film, is, well, less than stellar. Terry Winsor keeps his film dark, with a mostly dull palette but for some very bad clothes and set dressings. In some ways, the
Essex Boys is certainly not for everyone. Tweens under fifteen should stay far away, and folks who don’t like British accents will most likely hate such thick dialects and regional speech. I must stress, however, that one should not let the ‘Englishness’ of Essex Boys deter one from this great movie. My bare bones DVD doesn’t have much, but it does have subtitles! Fans looking for grit and action and sex will find it all in