category: Review

Side Street Films: Hyena

Friday, March 27, 2015 by

Eden Cinemas’ innovative Side Street Films programme is aimed at showing that there is “more to cinema than Hollywood” – and we couldn’t agree more. Our resident cineaste Shaun Antnin takes a look at the fortnightly offerings from Eden’s artistically oriented programme and decides what they are worth.

Detective Inspector Michael Logan (Peter Ferdinando) heads a Special Operations unit tasked with solving drug crime on the mean streets of London. While trawling the seedy underbelly of Britain’s capital city, these dishonest lawmen have made contacts and made themselves money; and it’s made explicitly clear from the onset that the moral line which should distinguish the criminals from the men in uniform who are supposedly there to stop them is fuzzy to say the least.


When Spartka – a low-level dealer that Logan has invested his ill-gotten gains in – gets chopped up on the order of some very nasty Albanian drug barons, the DI needs to find a means of recouping his losses. Almost straight after, he is detailed to a special task force headed by former nemesis David Knight (Stephen Graham) charged with busting the Albanians’ racket. In no time at all, he finds himself entrusted with building a case against the very same criminals he is doing business with, while at the same time being under the close watch of Internal Investigations officer Nick Taylor (Richard Dormer) who is set on having Logan expelled from the force.

This is a world where there are scarcely any good cops, and a few really bad ones, with the majority occupying the scale of grey between the two. Drug use is also a recurring motif; Logan, his team, and various other characters, are all seen snorting heroic amounts of coke. This, along with incessant swearing of the highest calibre, and the incredibly crude racist terms which the officers in Michael’s team use, further illustrate the base nature of these self-serving, corruptible, supposed guardians of society.

London’s size and cosmopolitan profile makes it ideal territory for such plotlines. However, the formula narrative of turf wars between rival gangs has been adapted to suit contemporary demographics. Gang rivalry is no longer between the natives and immigrants, rather it involves established immigrants facing off against new arrivals who bring new types of crime and previously unheard of levels of violence into the equation. Within this context, the film presents the police as having become a gang struggling to keep ahead of the ‘competition,’ with Logan and his team operating by employing similar methods to the criminals they are up against.

Writer-director Gerard Johnson makes a good fist of depicting this tense relationship. Portrayed events are brutal and bloody but – almost contradictorily – there is actually very little real violent action depicted in full on screen, with most of it taking place out of shot. However, what is shown is enough to conjure up some incredibly disturbing imagery. The impact of such events is arguably surpassed by the film’s sole sex scene, where a comatose woman is mounted and raped by an obese man. The disgust and shock one feels upon viewing such a scene is intentional, and serves its primary purpose (outside of eliciting further sympathy for the victim): it is included to give the audience a reason to root for such a morally corrupt central character.

And this leads to the crux of this work. With no clear sense of right and wrong and no division between the moral and immoral, it is only Logan’s quest to help a trafficked girl which keeps the audience onside. That Taylor is initially portrayed as being uptight and unlikeable, while Knight is blatantly untrustworthy, assists in adding layers to the plot, but it is primarily by virtue of having the Norman Wisdom-watching, tracksuit wearing Kabashis – vicious, evil men with a penchant for human trafficking and dismemberment – as his adversaries that it is possible to feel any positive emotion towards the protagonist. Coupled to this are the desire to discover whether Logan delivers a conviction, gets his comeuppance, or denies all the odds and escapes both the gangsters and the internal investigation being held into his illicit dealings.

hyena (1)

“It’s not the 80s anymore” Michael’s superior officer reminds him, mid-way through his journey to oblivion. At first glance this statement may not seem to be entirely accurate, as the grimy and filtered colours are reminiscent of the film’s producers’ most famous offerings: Mona Lisa and The Crying Game, while the soundtrack is by The The, who also plied their trade that very same decade; but, regardless of such retro-tinged influences, both the soundtrack and the masterful camerawork complement what is essentially a contemporary artefact.

The question remains, however, as to whether this product is worthy of a viewing. The answer is that the film is a bit of a mixed bag. For those who enjoy crime dramas, and go into such films knowing exactly what to expect, I would recommend it without reservation. This is a work which breaks certain generic cliché’s while reinforcing others, so there should definitely be plenty enough here to deem it worthy of a viewing. As I count myself among those who enjoy this genre I certainly found it a worthwhile experience.

However, Hyena is far from the first work to tackle many of the issues it covers and, from an objective perspective, it could be argued that some of the scenes are unnecessarily long and, as outlined above, that this is not a film to suit all tastes. If you have a cast iron stomach,  are not deterred by abusive language,  and want to see strong acting in powerful scenes with top-drawer lensing, all encapsulated within a film that is of a high technical standard and with a solid plot, you should find more than enough to keep yourself entertained.


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