It's another British gangster film. Yes, I know. I strongly disliked it almost until the end, finding it an unpleasant experience, but then the finale turned that around and now I like it.
The problem is our protagonist, played by Jonny Lee Miller. He hates his life and thinks gangsters are cool, so he gets his childhood friend (Jude Law) to get him into Ray Winstone's mob. You see? I hate him already. Unfortunately his new friends are a bit pathetic. There's a fat joke of a driver who's a magnet for every stupid sadistic thing that could happen to anyone and seems to be indestructible. There's a thug with bedroom problems who's being given sexual advice by other thugs. You wouldn't want to spend time with these people, but they're still not gangster enough for Miller, who'd been expecting to be in a Martin Scorsese movie and thinks starting a gangland war is how you prove you're a man. He thus goes around looking for trouble, pulling pranks like shooting people on the street and stealing cocaine from rival gangs, then pulling out a can of spray paint and signing the crime scene so they'll know it was him.
In other words, he's the king of all tossers. If he'd been tortured to death ten minutes into the movie, I'd have approved.
What's both off-putting and interesting about this movie is its tone. We're seeing things through Miller's eyes, so for a long while this appears to be one of those lazy, faintly disturbing movies that wants its gangsters to be likeable. They're even funny. I wouldn't actually call it a comedy, but there are definitely laughs to be had from Ray Burdis's penile dysfunction, e.g. the masturbation interview. These people aren't out-and-out evil, but merely unpleasant in a grimy, mundane way that you know is going to make a good chunk of the audience regard them as lovable scallywags or something. They have wives and girlfriends. Ray Winstone is planning his wedding. They don't actually want to be gunning each other down all the time. It's just that their reaction is to laugh their heads off if someone gets stabbed in front of them, while Winstone's bride-to-be loves being around all this violence and is as bad as him.
However the movie doesn't stay in this mode. You've got an apparently lightweight film with a bit of comedy, but its lead character is a self-destructive idiot who's not entirely comfortable to watch. The film's not ashamed to stoop as low as a viagra scene, which is amusing even while it's being puerile and unbelievable, but you've also got gangster violence. Then of course there's the ending, which you'll think is required and necessary (if you're me) or else completely out of place (if you've been seeing the film as light entertainment).
Me, I'm about to bring up Scorsese again. This film reminds me of Taxi Driver. Obviously it's not even a speck of lint on that film's trouser cuff, but what they do have in common is a fuck-up of a protagonist who keeps making bad choices which I didn't particularly want to be watching. A "ha ha ha Scooby Doo" ending would have made me hate this film with the passion of a thousand blazing suns. Instead though I find myself respecting the movie, while at the same time admitting that's it's easy to dislike. The critics bashed it in 2000, calling it inept and self-indulgent. The BFI's reviewer goes ballistic. However the imdb user review pages are overflowing with love for the thing, using phrases like "one of my all time favourite films" and "the best film to ever come out of the UK bar classics like Monty Python and The Italian Job".
It's a Primrose Hill film. No, I'd never heard of that either. Apparently in the 1990s a bunch of British actors who often worked together became known as the "Primrose Hill set", since that's the area in North London where they'd all lived, and this is one of theirs. Their other films are Blue Juice (1995), Trainspotting (1996) and Final Cut (1998). Furthermore this had been going to be the middle film in a trilogy, starting with Final Cut, except that its box office failure killed that plan. Both of those films were co-written, co-directed and co-produced by Dominic Anciano and Ray Burdis (who also act in the film), while furthermore both films also name the cast after the actors playing them. Jonny Lee Miller's character is called Jonny, for instance. Ray Winstone and Ray Burdis together mean the film has two Rays. Of the sixteen main characters, the only exceptions to this rule are Matthew (Rhys Ifans) and Maureen (Denise van Outen).
Incidentally that's the 1998 Final Cut about Jude Law's posthumous humiliation of all his friends, not the 2004 Final Cut that's a near-future SF story about implanting memory chips in babies. Those both sound interesting, actually.
Coming back to Love, Honour and Obey... the cast's good. It's a cliche to cast Ray Winstone in these roles, but that's because he's such a natural at them. Obviously we have a ton of familiar British faces, of whom I was happiest to see Kathy Burke again. The one who impressed me most though was Rhys Ifans. I've seen him in at least three movies - Kevin & Perry Go Large
, Notting Hill and this one - and in each of those he's so organic and scene-stealing that you'd think he was being typecast, yet none of those roles is even remotely like the others. Eye Ball Paul is a sleazebag, Notting Hill's Spike is a space case and here he's playing the film's number one psycho.
In summary, this is an odd one. Don't put it on for the family and expect everyone to like it. They might, mind you. Laughter can be a communal experience. Personally I'd describe it as challenging and abrasive, yet at the same time also cheeky chappie nonsense. I can't say with confidence what the writer-directors were even aiming for, but I like it. I think. However at the time I disliked most of it. I can't remember ever reacting to anything like that before.