The gruesome death of three Essex drug dealers on a rainy night in December 1995 has already spawned three movies attempting to put the pieces together and solve the triple murder of Tony Tucker (38), Patrick Tate (37) and Craig Rolfe (26), shot dead in a Range Rover down a small farm track in Rettendon. All three films were rubbish. Luckily, some bright spark decided that we needed another one. Will The Fall Of The Essex Boys finally shed some light on the culprits, and can we really be choonked with a fourth instalment?
An 18-year-old schoolgirl from Essex dies after taking an ecstasy pill. Leading the investigation is Detective Inspector Stone (Ewan Ross), stepping in to try and put pressure on an untouchable unit of criminals – Pat Tate, Tony Tucker and Craig Rolfe, also known as The Essex Boys.
As the gang grow stronger and more fearless, their addiction to drugs and power slowly starts to spiral out of control, forming few allegiances but gaining enemies at every turn.
It isn’t long before Stone starts seeing the cracks for himself, and with the added pressure from his peers – including an ex-colleague who is also the dead girl’s father – he soon realises that bringing them down is the least of his worries; getting his man on the inside out safely will prove much more difficult…
First, Sean Bean snarled his way through a drab Goodfellas wannabe in Essex Boys (2000). The oddly titled Rise Of The Footsoldier (2007) followed, charting the inexorable rise of Carlton Leach from one of the most feared generals of the football terraces to becoming a member of the gang, revelling in violence but little else. Three years later - and best of the bunch - Bonded By Blood (2010) was well-acted with some nice touches, but failed to offer anything new. Reem it certainly wasn’t. Whether we really needed another instalment is up for debate (we can’t even get a Goonies sequel) but nevertheless The Fall Of The Essex Boys will be out in selected cinemas on the 8th February 2013, with a DVD release just ten days later.
It’s unfair to label auteur Paul Tanter as the poor man’s Guy Richie. He’s more of an Andy Richie. The footballer - who made 661 appearances and scored 210 goals – was nicknamed ‘Stiches’. With Tanter’s background in onscreen violence, especially football hooliganism (he has already directed The Hooligan Wars and The Rise And Fall of a White Collar Hooligan with White Collar Hooligan 2: England Away in post-production), it’s safe to say you’re in for lots of c-words and bloodshed, with the occasional scene of disorderly conduct thrown in for good measure. Fortunately, like Andy was at playing football, he’s quite good at it, and the fourth attempt at getting to the bottom of this intriguing case is easily the best.
The film begins with the car full of crimsoned corpses, then zips back in time, as Darren Nicholls (Nick Nervern) fills us in on events leading up to the slaughter. Filling us in basically means a lot of overenthusiastic SHAHTIN’ in the voiceover, which either gets toned down in the latter stages or we’ve just grown accustomed to such a clumsy and grating technique. It really is infuriating, and hinders a film that may be riddled with clichés and indistinguishable characters, but has enough menace to keep you interested.
The film offers its actors (fans of Tanter’s movies will recognise most of the cast) roles that allow them to strut, overact and grunt throughout. Peter Barrett as Pat Tate is the standout; his ability to make his character charismatic is a testament to his skills, and despite his lover, Karen (Kierston Wareing), spending most of her time having sex with a rival, it’s little wonder she fell for such a fella. Meanwhile, Wareing’s abilities are wasted. The only reason she’s there is to convince the audience that Tate is a bad egg, but Barrett does that perfectly well by himself.
Other performances are appropriately sleazy, with Nevern’s Darren managing to sidestep the conventional in-too-deep-before-wanting-out plot with the help of a neat twist and one of Tanter’s few moments of boldness. Detective Stone is equally alluring, thankful for the richest characterization and a family that doesn’t want him dead. But one of the biggest disappointments is newcomer Jay Brown. He starts off predictably well playing the brutish, psychopathic Tony Tucker, but soon gets bogged down by his trite, predictable persona, ultimately becoming whiny and annoying, and most deserving of a bullet to the head.
The film is further marred by the anticipated lack of resolution. Out of the four films based on those same events this version does at least hint at a more provocative explanation, but when the final twist arrives it offers more questions than answers. Stephen Reynolds script concentrates on Robert Cavanah’s character Mickey Steele and his relationship with Karen, Tate’s woman, and the deteriorating affiliations with the gang. Partnering up with Jack Whomes (Tony Denham), we’re quite happy to except their reasons to double-cross and murder the gang (they’re currently serving life for the crime) but instead Tanter throws in a curve-ball with few hints throughout to make the payoff work.
Thankfully, apart from that disappointment, the final fifteen minutes are mightily impressive, including a chase sequence that will make this brief journey more worthwhile. The film isn’t a fact-by-fact account of events; real-life victim Leah Betts’ name is replaced by a generic female victim who collapses in the nightclub rather than at home, and the ensuing discovery that the amount of water she took that evening was just as much to blame for her death as the ecstasy tablet is disappointingly never touched upon, but it’s as close as we’ve come to suggesting the police has a greater involvement than merely failing to solve the case. At the end of the day, for those that know very little about the events (it was nearly twenty years ago now), The Fall Of The Essex Boys is probably the best, and only, place to start. At the very least, you’ll be searching Wikipedia immediately after watching.
Less glamorous than its rivals, The Fall Of The Essex Boys once again fails to offer an enterprising explanation as to why three men were left dead as two others served life imprisonment. Eventually succumbing to a twist that provides more questions than answers, it also suffers from clichéd characters and a jarring voiceover, but there’s enough to enjoy, and the final chase is marginally short of sensational. DW