Review by Michael Brooke
Film critic Michael Brooke writes for ScreenOnline, Sight & Sound, DVD Times and other publications
Some hearts might sink when confronted with SAXON’S opening scenes: British cinema emphatically does not need another cheapo gangster film, especially given rumours that the impending landfill shortage has been caused by millions of discarded reels of similar efforts.
Thankfully, as the central premise becomes clearer, it develops beyond all recognition. The title comes from the run-down housing estate where all the action takes place. Much like a Western frontier town, conventional law and order has broken down, with summary justice meted out by assorted goons (or ‘bailiffs’) hired by the local authority to keep the local populace cowed.
Into this corrupt concrete jungle comes Eddie, a debt-ridden wastrel just out of prison and trying to put his life back together. A visit to an old friend embroils him in some amateur detective work, which gives him an excuse to knock on a large number of doors and encounter more than a few unpleasant surprises along the way – not least when he finds out what his mother does for a living.
Writer-director Greg Loftin stirs in a veritable encyclopaedia of nods to other cult favourites – TRAINSPOTTING, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, spaghetti westerns, even THE WEAKEST LINK. But unlike the usual parade of in-jokes that many first-timers think is an acceptable substitute for wit, drama and convincing character development, Loftin actually turns this raw material into something distinctive. The plot twists are often genuinely clever, some of the dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny, and while some of the acting occasionally wobbles, the central performances are rock-solid.
Particularly noteworthy are Sean Harris as the hapless human punchbag Eddie (a man for whom the term ‘hangdog’ could have been coined) and newcomer Michelle Connolly as Jackie, the feisty Irishwoman he falls for – though it’s by no means reciprocated at first. Other standouts include Drew Edwards, exuding genuine menace as head bailiff Russell, while Sue Maund as Eddie’s mother has to cope with scenes that could well have toppled into absurdity in less accomplished hands. And praise is also due to Vincent Browett and Michael Portman’s Spanish-tinged music score, suggesting a Morricone influence while avoiding overt parody.
The film proudly wears its change-from-a-fiver budget on its sleeve. Can’t afford elaborate set design? Find an entire housing estate that’s about to be demolished, and get a level of distressed authenticity that Hollywood would spend millions faking. Shooting plagued by planes flying overhead? Point the camera upwards and incorporate them into the sound design. Need a mysterious deus ex machina without the special effects? A strange old woman selling lighters and trinkets does the job just fine.
Low-budget British films got a deservedly bad reputation at the turn of the millennium, when Gordon Brown’s longed-for tax breaks led to a flood of semi-professional productions, most of which never saw the light of a projector bulb – and generally didn’t deserve to. But in recent months the likes of RED ROAD and LONDON TO BRIGHTON have pumped new energy into the micro-budget sector, and SAXON deserves the same kind of platform. It’s a refreshing surprise all round.