This Hyena is a rare beast indeed, a British film about policemen.
Britain has myriad small-screen coppers, a world-leading collection of taciturn, quirky law enforcers who plod their way through 60-minute murder cases – and it’s usually murder – in the country’s surprisingly mean streets.
But on the big screen, British law tends to be peripheral to the action, which is mostly focused foursquare on the bad guys. Brit flicks like geezers and gangsters. Coppers, not so much.
Recent exceptions to this rule of thumb were 2012’s execrable The Sweeney and 2013’s riotous Filth. In both, though, it was often hard to discern where the crime stoppers stopped and the crimes began.
And so it is with Hyena. The central figure and anti-hero is the unorthodox, conflicted Michael Logan (Peter Ferdinando), a mess of a man who leads a head-cracking, take-pocketing drugs and vice team with something like a Messianic zeal.
He’s in it up to his neck. The clip-joint and narco-factory raids are mere aperitifs to his grand plan, investment both financially and emotionally in the planning of a new smuggling route from Turkey.
But Logan’s moves are dismembered by a turf war being won with extreme prejudice by a pair of Albanian brothers (Orli Shuka and Gjevat Kelmendi) who want to move from moving people into moving drugs. Back in the office, internal affairs are sniffing around Logan and his crew and an old face from his past (Stephen Graham, slumming it a bit) has turned up to put the paranoia up him.
Caught in the middle of a Turkish-Balkan war and pressed into professional action that runs contrary to his personal desires, Logan runs a balancing act in a world where no-one really has any friends. His life gets really complicated, really fast.
Set around the itinerant neighbourhoods of West London, Hyena does have some merits. Logan and his team work the netherworlds that exist in secret behind doors with many doorbells, in the back rooms of convenience stores and around the phonecard-selling stalls of down at heel multi-lingual shopping arcades. It’s a very European approach to the police procedural.
But too quickly and too easily Hyena descends into Scarface in Bayswater, with mountains of cocaine being hoovered up by sadists, freaks and paranoiacs, and blood being shed by the bucket load.
It may have worked better on television, where British coppers live. The space afforded by, say, an extra couple of hours may have allowed room for the myriad storylines to breathe.
Although director Gerard Johnson could argue that the small screen would have meant toning down for telly’s sensitivities. Hyena’s 18 certificate is well merited – some nasty Albanian machete work and a grubby drug-rape scene make sure of that. The film treads a fine line between brutal realism and sleazy exploitation and, like the bent coppers at the heart of the story, frequently comes up on the wrong side.