When writer/director Guy Ritchie and his films Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch arrived on the scene, the modern gangster film transformed from violent, sweeping melodramas into slick comedy capers thanks to the tone he brought to the genre's twists and double-crosses. It's not surprising, really -- there probably was, and still is the feeling that the style had been perfected in films like The Godfather and GoodFellas (and has since migrated to the more expansive stage of television with shows like "The Wire" and "The Sopranos") -- but Ritchie's wink-and-smirk style quickly crossed the pond and probably played a part in movies like The Italian Job and even Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven trilogy. The Crew is a determinedly different experience, stripping away even the darker humor of Matthew Vaughn's Layer Cake in a decisive return to grittier, violent places.
The Crew opens with a botched heist, with a group of criminals led by Ged Brennan (Scot Williams) hijacking a Mack truck with nothing in it. The misinformation puts Ged's entire group into a tight spot, including Ged himself. Ged and his wife Debs (Cordelia Bujega) are friends with another couple named Keith (Raza Jaffrey) and Pamela Thompson (Rosie Fellner), and Ged is cautiously considering a land deal with Keith and leaving the game behind. When a local drug kingpin named Leo the Pig turns up dead, Ged's brother Ratter (Kenny Doughty) suggests the group pick up the racket left behind by Leo and Ged adamantly refuses, afraid of the jail time and danger involved in the drug business. Ratter is already determined to see his plan through, however, and the two men slowly begin working against each other behind each other's backs, with trouble looming on the horizon.
To write the story down makes the The Crew sound unoriginal, and it's certainly not the freshest idea I've ever seen. What makes the movie work is the numerous subplots and side stories hanging around on the edges of the film, which go surprisingly far towards fleshing out the characters and keeping the movie unpredictable. Rory McCann (Hot Fuzz's nearly silent "yarp"-ing giant) plays Moby, a friendly but sex-addicted thug in Ged's crew with a predilection towards porn and fat women, running up a sizable tab at a local strip club. Debs and Pamela start doing cocaine while Ged is away and slowly begin making quiet sexual advances towards one another while Ged's need to deal with the group and their problems puts a strain on his marriage. Worst of all, the vicious gangster Franner (Stephen Graham), who Ged reports to, comes down to investigate who bumped off Leo, putting everyone in the area on their toes. These subplots (and others I won't spoil) fill in the movie so that the getting-out-slash-last-job anxiousness and brotherly rivalry aren't forced to bear all the heavy lifting.
Curiously, this upside may also be the problem crippling the movie. The Crew runs 123 minutes, and while it's not aggravatingly overlong, the movie should probably be 10 or 15 minutes shorter. Most, if not all of the movie's payoffs were worth waiting a little long for, but the movie would be much better if it moved at a faster pace. There are also interesting and well-performed but somewhat unnecessary scenes, like a bit where Ratter and his partner in crime, an antsy gay cokehead named Paul the Hom (Philip Olivier) beat up two crackheads they hired for sex; I suppose it makes Ratter more dangerous and adds to the movie's tone, but it doesn't really go anywhere. Ratter and Paul also move to take out a few layabouts who might squeal to Ged about Ratter's double-crossing, and they go to shut them up, but not only do they hire a whole group of street kids to help them (more people who could potentially talk and ruin their plan), but Phil actually videotapes the whole event, which creates even more incriminating evidence.
The performances by the entire cast are good, elevating the movie beyond several of its flaws. Going back to Snatch, viewers may recognize Stephen Graham as Turkish's dim sidekick Tommy, but here he takes on an entirely different persona, playing a truly threatening villain in his short screen time (not appearing until past the movie's halfway point despite making it onto the DVD cover). Williams is also good as the main character, remaining just charismatic enough in the few moments of levity his character is allowed despite being angry for most of the movie. Bujega also deserves a special mention as Debs; her part is relatively small and removed from the gang violence and action of the film, but she has an excellent scene reacting to a serious betrayal near the end of the movie, and plays the developing, hearts-aflutter attraction between herself and Fellner nicely.
Like most films of its type, The Crew tries to have a somewhat grand ending, where all of the plot threads collide into a single explosive moment. Director Adrian Vitoria doesn't quite know how to pull it off with the scale the sequence is calling for, and it feels a little flat, but the resolution of the movie's various plot threads is ultimately satisfying enough. The Crew might not be better than most of Guy Ritchie's output, but as a different tone of film, it achieves a modest amount of success.
The Crew comes with tired guns-in-extreme-perspective style cover art (is it me, or do Scot Williams' fingers look a little weird?) trying to hype up the movie's gunplay factor, while the back cover features a poorly thrown in explosion and further guns-in-perspective (not as extreme, though). There are also distracting red boxes and lines on the back cover that seem unnecessary. Inside the Infiniti case, there is no insert, and the disc repeats the front cover artwork.
The Video and Audio
The anamorphic widescreen presentation included on this disc can be summed up in one word: inconsistent. Some of the shots (mainly well-lit mid-range close-ups) look like the best that DVD has to offer, with vivid, eye-popping colors, rich black levels and plenty of fine detail, but the majority of the movie isn't quite as good, appearing a tad washed out and grainy, and a few shots really look bad, with blacks turning into a blotchy, muddy mess, and posterization hanging around the edges of the frame. Even the aspect ratio changes once; the opening scene is in 2.35:1 and the rest is 1.85:1.
English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is a similar experience, packing in the occasional directional effect or music cue, and sometimes seeming empty and sparse. Dialogue is clear, if not necessarily crisp, and the music sounds fine. On the whole, it's serviceable but not particularly impressive. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also included.
The bonus material begins with an audio commentary by director Adrian Vitoria and actors Scot Williams and Kenny Doughty. It's a perfectly good audio commentary -- not too many gaps and a reasonable amount and good balance of production information and joking. I imagine fans won't give it more than one spin, but it's slightly better than some of the other tracks I've listened to recently.
Two featurettes are included. "The Making of The Crew" (29:18) is an extremely dry making-of piece with most of the cast and crew explaining why they chose to make the film, the themes and motivations of the film and their characters, and the kinds of research they did for their characters. I don't know what this featurette needed (perhaps a more ruthless editor?) but it's certainly on the dull side -- not outright boring or a chore to sit through, just not very interesting. "25 Days in the Making (6:06) is an almost entirely dialogue-free montage of B-roll footage shot on the set, with a piece from the film's score playing over it. It's more fun than the making-of featurette, but nothing anyone will be dying to watch over and over again. One of the more interesting tidbits to be spotted is that the film originally had a different, perhaps even more generic title, Outlaws.
13 deleted scenes (19:52) make Ged a bit more dangerous, develop the lesbian affair subplot between Bujega and Fellner, further talk about the empty truck that opens the film and even a slightly alternate ending. For deleted scenes, they should actually be reasonably interesting for viewers who enjoyed the film, but it's hard to judge if the movie would have flowed better substituting any of this footage in to replace the material in the movie.
The film's original theatrical trailer is also included.
If you're a gangster junkie and you're looking for an okay rental for a rainy weekend, you could do worse than The Crew, which doesn't bring anything new to the table but has a whole cast's worth of solid performances and some interesting side plots that really flesh out the standard story.
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