The influence of Quentin Tarantino can be found all over British crime drama, WHO NEEDS ENEMIES, the feature debut of writer-director Peter Stylianou. With scenes placed out of chronological order - as opposed to, ‘you’re out of order, mate’ - as well as captioned chapter headings and references to a crime we never see, you know this British writer-director is familiar with the likes of RESERVOIR DOGS and KILL BILL. When QT refrained from showing the robbery in RESERVOIR DOGS, he did this partly out of financial necessity - though in terms of the film’s structure and technique, not going for conventional suspense, it was beside the point. Stylianou does not show the central crime in his movies because it is in a moral sense unwatchable. You don’t want to see it; you don’t need to see it to understand it. It is just wrong.
In other ways, WHO NEEDS ENEMIES is deeply conventional British crime drama. The dialogue is the lark before the storm; characters debate whether you can kill a man by punching them through the nose bone. ‘It’s an urban myth.’ Ostensibly it is about a clean up operation that goes awry. Ian (Michael McKell) sends three heavies to retrieve some incriminating photographs from Tom (Ian Pirie) the manager of a strip club. Tom gets a whack in the face for his trouble. Only one of the trio, Mark (Glen Fox, who resembles the British comedian Jack Whitehall) is compelled to look in the Union Jack sports bag he finds sunk at the bottom of Tom’s water feature. (Or back pond for my American readers.) In the history of movie mistakes, this ranks somewhere between R.I.P.D., which has similarly buried material, and SISTER ACT - witness to a crime ends up on the run; see also SOME LIKE IT HOT. Except Mark doesn’t make it to the masquerading as a woman stage. He gets the bag over the head treatment. ‘I told you I was going to kill him,’ brags another bloke. It is a shame for us as Mark in a few short scenes, is established as the film’s most likeable character.
Thereafter, we flashback to the deal. ‘You think I’m going to let you use my club, no questions asked?’ ‘Yeah, and turn off the CCTV.’ We get a heavy hint of what went on, though one also senses a different sort of constraint when Stylianou depicts victims through sets of eyes and Ian mistreating the girlfriend of another of his lackies.
It ends like LONDON TO BRIGHTON before it in a field, though without the impending sense of dread that Paul Andrew Williams’ debut film achieved. The fragmentary makes us work to understand the chronology and, through repeated scenes, extends the length of the movie, but it also dissipates tension. We don’t get too involved with the characters.Their fates don’t surprise or shock us.
Once Ian emerges as the most worm-laden in a crate of bad apples, we naturally want him to get his comeuppance. Missing from the film is a sense of what is truly at stake.
Working with movie stars, Tarantino engaged us because he showed them doing un-movie star things, even being killed whilst emerging from the toilet. Stylianou does not have stars, just his friends. The acting is competent, though weakest when characters interact with women - it could be just the writing. It is a typical British crime thriller in the sense that the forces of law and order are absent.
The central crime is not only withheld, it is not even discussed. If the crime is the real subject, Stylianou could have explained its causes, but instead just shows it as abhorrent behaviour, a step up from excessive drug taking, the current cinematic short hand for amorality. In the end, WHO NEEDS ENEMIES, with its nondescript title, is an example of storytelling tease over content, foul-mouthed and violent yet bland.
Reviewed at Soho Screening Room, D’Arblay Street, London, Wednesday 2 October 2013