The opening to Hooligan Escape: The Russian Job sets this film during the World Cup 2018, hosted by Russia, as a group of English lads find themselves kidnapped and forced to fight for their lives in hostile territory. Someone is out to get them for the crimes of their past and it has nothing at all to do with football… or hooligans for that matter.
Starring Ben Freeman (Emmerdale) and Ali Bastian (The Bill and Hollyoaks), they turn in convincing performances as the thoughtful hostage and the double-agent. Freeman, as Ed Leighton, leads the cast and is robust in his portrayal of the leader of the motley crew with escape on their mind. He, and his fellow cast members, may be hampered by occasionally jarring dialogue, but they all turn in decent performances for the film.
Released on digital download and DVD, Nicholas Winter does a fine job of spinning an interesting story that could be seen as just another entry in an over saturated genre. He raises the stakes by giving us Russian dialogue (and English subtitles), led by an intimidating Oleg Hill as Dimitry, instead of giving us actors speaking English in Russian accents and it pays off for him. The relentless Dimitry works well against the far more reflective nature of Leighton, with both prone to explosive acts of violence for very different reasons.
Though it may bear the name Hooligan Escape, this isn’t an all out episode of frenzied violence. Winter tries to humanise his characters as much as possible, giving the lion share of character development to Freeman. Watching his friend’s reactions as Ed shows how far he will go to save them, you see what Winter is aiming to do with his lesser of two evils approach.
Winter avoids reducing Bastian’s character, Veronika, to the blonde haired beauty that would have been so easy to write. He gives her a hardened edge that avoids her instantly becoming an object of lust for the masculine characters.
Largely filmed with handheld cameras, it really doesn’t help the production, especially during the fight scenes. There’s a lot of wobbly close up work, even when there’s no need for there to be, and it makes an unsettling experience that sometimes robs the performances of the tension that they’re trying to deliver.
The camera work may be variable, but there’s some good cinematography in here. Torture and violence scenes are well constructed so that they’re not overly graphic but let you know what’s going on; the fight scenes, by contract, aren’t as tight as the filming would necessitate.
Mostly strong performances, an interesting script and variable camera work – it’s certainly not a bad film within its genre, and it does have some stand out sequences in the extents Oleg and Ed go to in order to get what they want and the portrayal of violence as the ultimate form of power. The limiting factor here may very well be the title as it suggests that film to be something it isn’t.
Hooligan Escape: The Russian Job isn’t a film you can just stick on in the background, the subtitles put an end to that idea, but it still manages to be a decent film to watch with a beer and pizza.
Dir: Nicholas Winter
Scr: Nicholas Winter
Cast: Ben Freeman, Ali Bastian, Oleg Hill, Charlie Wernham
Runtime: 79 mins
Hooligan Escape: The Russian Job is available on DVD and digital download from 7th May 2018