By Paul Sillett
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 317

The Rise of the Footsoldier

This article is over 14 years, 11 months old
Director: Julian Glibey
Issue 317

As Cass Pennant remarked after the screening, “It’s a couple of notches up from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, but a shame it’s based on reality.”

The film is based on the experiences of Carlton Leach, who also narrates. Carlton was an observer, and participant, in the events on screen – events which made him known to many in East London. An ex-football hooligan, he survived an axe attack, an event that made him philosophical, driving him to move on.

The guns and violence resemble the dream of a Loaded magazine reader, which is where the problems arise. The storyline gets lost amid a welter of drug fuelled violence. Less would have been more.

There are a few redeeming features. Many of the actors come from the backgrounds they’re playing. Unlike Guy Ritchie, this lends some authenticity to events. Its portrayal of the sometimes seedy inner London of the 1980s rings true.

To be fair, the scenes conveying the hooligans’ temporary escape into love and peace in the 1990s via ecstasy and raves are deftly done. But you have to wonder at the mainly male fascination for all this. Freud would have had a field day analysing the egos on display here.

It was a natural progression for many to go from thumping herberts at football to bumping bods at clubs as doormen, and this Carlton does. But running doors was the easy part.

Following in a depressingly predictable tradition, Carlton moved onto protection rackets, and a firm grows around him. The age of Thatcherism and the ‘greed is good’ culture meant that this made sense for some at the time. As serious drug dealers move in, Carlton’s world becomes infected by hardened rivals from the world of organised crime. Soon enough, tit for tat murders follows and the bodies pile up.

Carlton’s cog in this poisonous machine meant his life was turned truly upside down. Frustratingly, the plot only gets intriguing near the climax, with nods at underworld rumours about the Essex murders, for example that the police played a murky, underhand, role. It would have benefited the film massively if this had been explored further.

There is now a genre of these supposedly gritty, ‘Britgangster’ films and few merit re-watching. What’s valuable is that it shows how personal relationships become debased the higher one climbs the greasy pole in such a setting. Unlike many shown here, Carlton is still alive. But there’s no challenge to the audience, no dramatic explanation as to why Carlton became embroiled. His strength was that he pulled back from the brink of a complete loss of humanity.

Unlike Carlton the film pulls its punches. If you want to know how he won through such alienation, buy a copy of his book, Muscle. The film just scratches the surface of a complex tale.

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