Outlaw is a violent crime flick from writer and director Nick Love, the man who brought us The Business and Football Factory. This is a gritty and violent film about a group of vigilantes who are sick of ineffective policing and seek to deal with the wrongs of society themselves.
The film is set mainly in London and tells the tale of a soldier named Bryant (Sean Bean) who upon returning from his latest tour of duty is sickened to find criminals running rampant across Britain. He hatches a scheme with a hotel security guard (Sean Harris) to hunt down criminals and make them pay for their crimes. With help from a sympathetic officer in the police force (Bob Hoskins) they track down known criminals that the law has been unable or unwilling to deal with and they dispense their own brand of justice vigilante style.
Various characters join them in their mission and Bryant struggles to build them into an effective gang. Gene Dekker (Danny Dyer) is an office worker who was randomly beaten up by a group of thugs and is sick of living in fear. Cedric Munroe (Lennie James) is a barrister who pays for his prosecution of a criminal boss with the death of his wife and unborn child. Sandy (Rupert Friend) is a posh student who was beaten to within an inch of his life by a group of thugs who served virtually no time at all for their crime.
This disparate group meet with Bryant and agree to help with his vigilante plan. They enact a violent revenge on some of the people who have caused them pain and soon become focused on the boss who had Cedric´s wife and unborn child killed. It transpires that he is operating with the complicity of the police and the gang are mercilessly hunted by both the thugs and the police. The action builds to a gripping climax as the gang close in on the boss and the police close in on them.
The film portrays a bleak vision of a randomly violent Britain. The colours are washed out, the camera work frenetic and the violence loud and visceral. Love's direction is full of movement and it creates an almost dizzying effect as you are dragged along on this gruelling journey in search of justice.
The subject matter is deeply topical, Bryant makes a speech at one point condemning Blair's Britain and their lack of results with thug culture and violent crime. The gang receive some sympathy from the public for what they are doing but others seem just as quick to condemn them and with the police working against them Bryant is soon portrayed as a cold killer.
The cast is excellent here. Sean Bean does a good job with his disaffected soldier, he knows what he would like to do but putting it into practice gives him more problems than he bargained for and you can see him frequently wrestling with decisions as the rest of the gang look to him for leadership. Sean Harris is very good as the unhinged security guard, the kind of guy who talks about all the mad things he would do down the pub but doesn't actually do any of them. Given the chance he proves himself a little too willing to punish people but his conception of punishment is a step too far for the rest of them. Danny Dyer plays Dekker perfectly as a normal bloke with a healthy fear of violence who wants to stand up to it but doesn't know how. Lennie James was also very good as the heartbroken barrister driven to extraordinary lengths by the failure of the system. Finally Hoskins as the cynical old copper lent the whole affair some gravity.
The premise is a very good one and the mix of characters is great but somehow this falls short. It feels as though it should be more satisfying, that they could have made more of the scenario than they have. This is partly down to the writing, the fixation on the big criminal boss and the idea that the police are in league with him doesn't hold up very well and is never adequately explained. Too much time is spent on the set-up and not enough on the actions of the gang and as things begin to escalate the reality of the situation seems to slip away and we end up in familiar action territory.
All in all Outlaw is a well made film with a great cast and a fantastic premise but the plot development could have been stronger and the stylistic direction becomes overbearing and irritating in places. Still this is fast-paced, typically violent and easily holds the attention for the full 104 minute running time.