The British gangster crime drama feels cursed. It’s been explored so often in cinema post-Guy Ritchie, and for the most part, so inefficiently, that anybody else who dares give it a shot feels as though they’re stepping over old ground, abiding by convention. Regrettably, Gerard Johnson’s sophomore endeavour Hyena does little to prove that there is much life in this genre yet, with another hackneyed turn that seems notably devoid of innovation.
In Hyena, the focus lies predominantly from within, as we cast our eyes over a corrupt police force, and in particular, the case that Detective Michael (Peter Ferdinando) is working on. Though falling in with the wrong crowd, where lies and deceit is a prevalent issue, Michael is determined to get to the bottom of a murder he witnessed, and doing so in a lawful manner. With the unwanted assistance of his superior officer David Knight (Stephen Graham), they delve into a dark, deranged criminal underworld, and one that Michael has a vested interest in – having put £100k into a drug deal that concerns the lead suspects in the case, as he needs to decide whether his allegiances (and money) mean more to him than justice.
First and foremost, there is certainly a tangible atmosphere to this picture that makes for a disquieting experience, as the vast majority of it takes place at night (hence the title Hyena), while London has been depicted in a brutal, and yet oddly recognisable way. So often the capital feels almost alien on the big screen, but Johnson – an East Londoner himself, has captured the sensibilities of the city to great effect. However regrettably it’s the narrative which lets this title down, as tedium kicks in, and a generic thriller plays out. It’s a shame as there were makings here for a more accomplished offering, with a cast that also consists of the likes of Richard Dormer and Elisa Lasowski. However the film is lacking an endearing character to emotionally invest in, as nobody is particularly likeable. Through the blurring of the line between good and evil, with several characters that are difficult to judge, it makes for a cold experience, with nobody to root for.
For a film that feels bogged down by its inclination to remain archetypal of the genre and seemingly deviate away from being creative and unique, the one moment where Johnson does take a risk, is within the rather audacious ending. However, though finally offering something a little bit different, it’s not one that pays off for the filmmaker, being too ambiguous and open-ended, which is frustrating to say the least. For a film that is irritatingly conventional, it could have just done with an ending that was, well, a touch more conventional.