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April 2011

Sudden Fury

cast: Nick Rendell, Paul Murphy, Andrew Ranger, David Warbeck, and Victor D. Thorn

director: Darren Ward

102 minutes (18) 1997
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
4 Digital Media DVD Region 2

RATING: 4/10
review by Paul Higson

Sudden Fury

I took on the screener tombola last month, although, to be fair, the position of Darren Ward's Sudden Fury in the chronology of the British exploitation film, notoriously violent and full of independent derring-do, has over the years latently called for my attention, and I would have eventually chased the film up off my own bat. Ward has something of a reputation, though I have never casually ascertained whether it was a genuinely good or bad one.

Like other auteur British independents during the wilderness years of the British genre film, essentially that toxic and fractured double decade that was the 1980s and 1990s, Ward seemed to have been congratulated more so on completing feature films than he was for creating movies of real value. It might have been easier to appreciate a film like Sudden Fury in the day too. Now is certainly not the time to release this movie and expect renters not to notice its age. Shot on video, the film is immediately dated. This alone would not kill the film, neither is it that there is not a lot to appreciate in Sudden Fury, but the conventional scenario of a gangster war, the lowest common denominator dialogue, and the appalling acting of several of the participants (shouty, gurning, flailing arms, stilted delivery) eventually eek their toll and this viewer is turned off.

No great fan of gangster stories, particularly British ones, had British cinema not been so cash-strapped in the 1980s the success of The Long Good Friday may have triggered a response, but we were left with a smattering of flicks including Empire State and Tank Malling which instead predicted the surge in Brit-gangster awfulness that would embarrass us instead at the outset of the 2000s. That revival itself was set into motion by the critical success of Antonia Bird's Face, a British answer to The Usual Suspects.

The popularity of Face came down to it not settling on the one genre, but acting also as an whodunit, internal to the gangster rank. Sudden Fury was made around the same time but, despite offering the betrayal twists, has far more in common with the Cliff Twemlow's G.B.H. movies, shot on video and boasting bloody feuding between various crooked factions. The G.B.H. films are similarly flawed but found a local audience in an immediate medium be it video release or cable. There are also comparisons to be made with Craig Lindsay-Shonteff and his mix of enthusiastic effort and obvious shortfalls.

The film opens at its least appealing, with a medium close-up aggressive cuss-a-thon in a badly lit room, and appallingly delivered epithets. Ending on a bloody note we learn that Randall (Paul Murphy) has made an attempt to rip-off a rival drug baron, Harris, but that the hirelings have left one man alive long enough to point the finger. The vicious Pike (David Warbeck) tortures two of Randall's men to death with a blow-torch and Randall is forced to recruit hard-nut Walker to straighten the problem out. He will offer to complete the transaction, but will really take out Pike and his entire crew.

Job done, Randall's henchman Jimmy (Andy Ranger), following Randall's instructions (in fact, Walker couldn't have been more than a couple of seconds and feet from the room when Randall laid out the original death sentence on him) tries to double-cross Walker, but instead takes a bullet as a warning. Walker is also injured, and taking the suitcase of cash holes up with a friend while he recuperates. The psychotic Randall meanwhile takes care of Harris. Visiting the rival, he shoots not only Harris but maliciously guns down the wife and first of Harris' young boys too. When the second little boy turns up Randall gleefully snaps his neck.

Jimmy, returning from his own recuperation in the Costa del Sol, is shocked at the thoroughness of his boss's actions, who clearly exhibits a sadistic pleasure in having murdered the entire family and Walker's protector is also abducted, tortured and murdered. The film is heading for a bloody showdown as Walker tracks the torturers down to their lair and the carnage ensues. When I say 'carnage' I mean carnage, as fingers bloodily jab a throat, a saw embeds in a neck, and intestines spill, the gore-hound still very much part of the young filmmaker's baggage.

On the plus side, Sudden Fury is well-made particularly when considering the limitations of the video medium. The old school techniques stand the film in good stead. Shots are well framed, making commendable use of locations, and most scenes have been provided with enough shots, close-ups, two-shots and have been explored from enough angles that it makes for a highly effective edit. The camera-work and editing are both down to a Peter Dobson. Indeed, shots like the overhead pan in the bedroom or the timing of a take with the passing of the wheels of a train are achieved with such aplomb that it is far too easy to overlook the calculations and efforts that have gone into capturing these moments, in fact every shot.

The action scenes are well planned and it is so easy for a young filmmaker to mismatch shots or to leave the fight short. There is none of that here. Blood squibs are arterial to the max and the very last bit of gunplay is a nod to Bonnie And Clyde, though to a multiplication of two, the drivers of two vehicles shooting each other up. Sudden Fury also involves a real star, David Warbeck, in his final role, offering his deferred fee assistance with little expectation of receiving the money, financially comfortably off, he had begun to offer his home and time free to young independent British filmmakers.

No matter how technically accomplished the film is it is burdened by un-likeable characters, characters that barely register as characters, and, as a result, a story that fails to involve. In addition to that there are the amateur performances. It has none of the combination quality, quirkiness and intelligence of other 4 Digital Media releases like Robert Pratten's Mindflesh, and Simon Sprackling's Wishbaby, and the release on this label is opportunistic to bump up the profile on the cheap. Sudden Fury has discernable technical qualities but falters in content.

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