Reviewed by: Robert Munro

"Bent copper. Check. A liking for the charlie. Check. Shady gangsters operating out of shady strip clubs. Check."

Hyena begins as a sub Winding Refn thriller, with the screen bathed in a cooling blue more appropriate to London than the shocking pink of Refn’s LA in Drive or the lurid neon of his Bangkok in Only God Forgives.

Much like the aforementioned Refn, writer/director Gerard Johnson brings us a picture of spiralling moral descent in a gritty big city underworld replete with horrible people doing horribly violent things. At the centre of this masculine maelstrom is Michael (Peter Ferdinando), a bent copper whose criminal comrade is mutilated by an incoming gang of Albanians, a move which leaves Michael’s bank balance rather lighter than he’d wish. £100k lighter to be precise.

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So far, so clichéd. Bent copper. Check. A liking for the charlie. Check. Shady gangsters operating out of shady strip clubs. Check. For a while Hyena rattles through the stereotypes of a Guy Ritchie film without the breezy sense of confidence and lightness of touch, which made Lock, Stock and Snatch such box office successes.

Yet the film begins to find its feet once the initial exposition is out of the way. Michael stumbles upon Arianne (Elisa Lasowski), a woman trafficked by the Albanians, whom he tries to help out of her desperate situation. Allied to this, the introduction of Detective Knight (Stephen Graham) and the stock internal affairs copper Detective Taylor (Richard Dormer), ramp up the tension through the film’s middle third.

The scenes involving Arianne are among the most successful in the film, yet ultimately feel wasted. In a few quite horrific scenes in which she is sold from one gang to another, drugged and then raped, the film feels like it finds a heart, but too quickly Arianne is rescued by Michael, and her misery sidelined.

Director Johnson and cinematographer Benjamin Kracun work well to produce a film that is quite often rather pleasant to look at, despite the appalling violence. A well choreographed scene in which Michael and Knight try to bury the hatchet after a falling out previously over a couple of pints in the local boozer, is indicative of their eye for the cinematic. The The provide a rather splendid soundtrack to Hyena, which excels in building up tension as necessary, but remains enticingly disjointed.

The film could have benefited from more sympathetic editing, which too often draws attention to itself and removes the audience from the narrative. Added to this, there are weaknesses in the script, with dialogue frequently falling into the dreary misogynistic and racist cockney geezer gangster stereotypes. Too many characters are wasted, such as Michael’s girlfriend Lisa, who has nothing better to do than mope about and ‘stand by her man’ despite the non existent relationship between the two, the subsequent effect of which is that her involvement in the film’s denouement elicits a barely perceptible shrug from the viewer.

And then there’s the ending, which explains the film’s star rating. It’s difficult to review this film, without discussing the ending, therefore those who wish to know nothing about it should stop now.

There is much to be said for ambiguity in the cinema. One only has to think of Antoine Doinel’s face in freeze-frame at the end of The 400 Blows and smile fondly at the film’s desire to leave the mischievous Antoine’s future up to the imagination of the viewer. Never mind that Truffaut would return to the character in a series of later films which never lived up to the first. Scorsese ripped this off rather successfully in Goodfellas, while Nolan's spinning top at the end of Inception was the perfect ending to his elaborate magic show.

The job of a thriller in the cinema is to plunge its characters into impossible-seeming situations from which they escape in ways that are both surprising yet ultimately obvious to the audience. Hyena, having done the first part rather well, cops out on resolving the impossible-seeming situation it has set up for its characters in the final minute of the film in the most unforgivably lazy, arrogant and self-indulgent manner possible.

That the Edinburgh International Film Festival has chosen such a film to open its annual extravaganza speaks volumes.

Reviewed on: 18 Jun 2014
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The story of a corrupt cop caught up in the London crime scene.
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Director: Gerard Johnson

Writer: Gerard Johnson

Starring: Peter Ferdinando, Stephen Graham, Neil Maskell, Elisa Lasowski, MyAnna Buring, Richard Dormer, Gordon Brown, Tony Pitts, Orli Shuka, Gjevat Kelmendi, Thomas Craig, Lorenzo Camporese, Shaban Arifi, Alfred Doda, Mem Ferda

Year: 2014

Runtime: 112 minutes

Country: UK

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