Halfway through Belgian made, Amsterdam set ‘Gangsta’ there’s a montage arguing the merits of cocaine being central to the world’s economy. Our Editor is not convinced believing instead that it’s the All You Can Eat Buffet where for a nominal sum you can relentlessly eat yourself stupid which in turn keeps farmers in business and the food industry afloat. Frankly he’s talking cobblers again and the only person who we can think would support this theory is D-list salad dodger Gemma Collins. But we digress…….
Set in Antwerp , Amsterdam, Gangsta follows four Moroccan gamer loving, sweary children, 3 boys and one tomboyish girl, living on a rough housing estate introduced in a zippy montage before we meet them as twenty something’s with little direction in life except to smoke cannabis and game away on their X-box. With a shady uncle involved in the City’s leading drug dealer importing cocaine at a far from secure Antwerp sea port where his nephew takes the opportunity, along with his friends, to steal a load of class A and earn themselves money. As the rules of this kind of film demand things go awry and when they start underselling the city dealers they inadvertently trigger a war finding themselves caught between the city’s drug lord looking for who has stolen his drugs, a racist pair of cops who are also after the drugs and an honest cop friend determined to clean up the city.
Directed by Abil El Arbi and Bilal Fallah who co-write with four others this is very heavily influenced by a number of directors most notably Guy Ritchie’s gangster films as well as Edgar Wright, John Woo, Nicholas Winding Refn, Spike Jones and Scorsese (unfortunately they’ve been unable to resist the oft imitated, ‘You talking to me?’ scene again copied here for no other reason than they clearly adore Taxi Driver as much as anyone else) so at least their taking from the best. Gangsta is packed with film technique which the directors clearly revel in experimenting using, as they do, speeded up sequences, rewinding scenes on screen, long steadicam shots, voiceovers, neon graphics dropped into scenes, chapter headings (the film uses the seven deadly sins) and some unusual angles to drive their story. It’s as visually arresting as anything we’ve seen this year and is probably why its bought them to the attention of Hollywood having landed then the directing gig for the long gestating Bad Boys 3 and Beverley Hills Cop 4.
Gangsta’s script though derivative and not as sharp as it should be follows the self proclaimed ‘joint smoking losers’ as they get deeper and deeper into trouble and the film does get darker and darker as it goes on with the three a little too comically crashing into ever deeper life threatening crisis. It’s only the fourth friend the only female in the film who becomes the girlfriend of the drug lord who seems to have any genuine moments of jeopardy. Arbi & Fallah’s script has called on their own perception of life in Antwerp though the racists cops may be a truism it is a bit clichéd but they’re not afraid to take pot shots at their own culture (the Uncle fronts a Pizza shop but the voice over makes clear his shop signage says ‘Piza’ as the correct spelling would have cost more).
At over two hours Gangsta is glossy but a little over long with a bit of a sag in the middle but mostly maintains a blistering pace if not to cover up some plot holes but there’s clearly talent at work here enough to make their Hollywood debut something to look forward to.
Here’s the Gangsta trailer…….