Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.
Football hooliganism proves useful from time to time in anchoring a narrative feature film. The rest is just up to the crew at hand and the creative process unfolds. With British independent thriller, Hooligan Escape: The Russian Job, what we get is just the kind of film that the niche would probably appeal to considering its simplistic formula and low-budget scope with the fitting caliber of action.
Writer and director Nicholas Winter, who himself is no stranger to hooligan films, makes work of the endeavor with actor Ben Freeman who bodes strongly as the protagonist next to actress Ali Bastian opposite a menacing and heavily beareded Oleg Hill. The good news is that Hooligan Escape: The Russian Job manages to retain its stimulus as the intensity increases throughout the story, although it does so on a limited palette which doesn’t suit well for character development.
In sum, the film starts with a frenetic flashback to a tragic incident that ties in two years later during the Russian games in 2018 when Hooligan behavior is essentially outlawed. Cut to a Russian jail where we find former SAS operative, Ed, along with four lifelong friends and football fans Jeff, Tom, Vince and Davie jailed only to see themselves gassed and awoken in an undisclosed facility that sits interconnected with two others, and penetrable only from the outside. Little do they know of Dimitri, the notorious international Russian crimeboss orchestrating it all as he’s long set his sights on them for the death of his brother two years earlier, leaving Ed to take charge with the help of Veronika, an undercover agent, and settle the score once and for all.
Much of what the film accomplishes in its seventy-nine minute duration is ado with the overall pacing. The cast carries well in acting and energy in general whist treading tight corridors and darkly-lit halls. Ben Freeman bodes strongly in leading the cast as the resilient and tough Ed, retaining ample chemistry with the rest of the quintet – only few of whom truly stand out in terms of character, namely Charlie Wernham who plays the rambunctious Davie. The connection stands equally firm with empathy between Ed and that of Ryan Winsley’s Vince, Kevin Mathurin as Tom and Michael Elkin as Jeff.
The real oddity at first occurs when our hapless hooligan bros are captured in what feels like a rough, rushed attempt to keep the excitement going by ensuing the death of a key character. Other things factor in here but it does leave you wondering what the rest of the story may entail in the hopes that no one else dies given what little we know about the characters at first aside from knowing they’re all football bros and a close knit unit.
Oleg Hill broods atop the cast as the visibly evil Dimitri, and rest assured, he holds his own among the rest of the film’s villainy. His is a character obsessed with finding as much of the warrior in others that he sees in himself and that’s really all that Hill has to go on for his time throughout the film. He makes it work, while the fact that the presence of Russian characters all up to no good may make some viewers weary of this sort of thing being stereotypical of Russians in movies, a fact made clear time and again – especially in Hollywood.
The addition of Bastian as Veronika serves as a fresh balance with Ed’s alpha male gravitas. Stunt and fight sequences improve gradually with a little more potency than in the first scene of the film which almost threatens to dampen whatever inaugural excitement viewers are meant to draw on. Winters weighs in with sufficient cinematography – a plus given his extensive history behind the lens.
There’s certainly a place for the Hooligan genre and it rests well with the niche that holds out for these kinds of films. They’re all handled differently and when it comes to reception, really…to each his own. Hooligan Escape: The Russian is nothing elephantine for its small-scale thrills and mildly diminutive characterization, and Cold War stereotypes might exhaust jaded viewers, but it’s identity and delivery as an action flick with several fun traits to its credit does grant it some purpose.