Outlaw - I can't take any more. Can you?
Sunday March 4, 2007
I can't take any more. Can you?
Nick Love's new film has been criticised for depicting vigilantes striking back
against the criminals on Britain's streets. Here, the director reveals he was
inspired by the breakdown of our society and a failing justice system
A student at a prominent university was walking home to his digs one night
when he was attacked by three teenage thugs for no apparent reason. It
was a meaningless and random act of violence. The details of the injuries
they caused him are too horrific to go into; needless to say he had to have
his face rebuilt through reconstructive surgery.
Meanwhile, the thugs served short borstal sentences and were released
before the student had even finished having hospital treatment. Apparently,
they were first- time offenders, so their punishment was limited to a few
I read this in the back pages of a local newspaper a couple of years ago and
it formed the starting point for my film Outlaw. The article made me wonder
where we've got to as a country when the perpetrators of vile crimes are
getting off the hook, while their victims are left damaged, both physically
and mentally, for life. I wondered: what sort of justice system do we have
under Tony Blair's rule?
Essentially, Outlaw is about people who have been failed by the law and
government for one reason or another, and decide to fight back themselves.
They decide enough is enough and take the law into their own hands by
exacting revenge on the people who have hurt them. Their approach is
violent and uncompromising, but then again so are the people who hurt
them in the first place.
Many times throughout the making of the film I asked myself the question:
what would I do? How would I react if some vile street thug attacked and
killed someone close to me? If I knew where I could find them, and in a
country where the justice system appears to be failing the common man,
would I sit back and trust the powers that be? Or would I take it upon
myself to dish out the punishment I saw fit to the assailant?
It's really hard to say because I've not been forced into that position. But
I do think the liberal press that are vilifying my film for glamorising vigilantism,
aren't really thinking about what they would do if it happened to them.
It's very easy to sit behind a desk and write caustic remarks about a film
that is dealing with a subject we'd all rather didn't make it into the cinemas,
but what if it happened to you? Would you take the law into your own hands?
When I walk around the streets of London, in certain areas I feel scared and
threatened. I'm 37 years old, yet if I see a gang of kids, probably about the
same age as those who went to borstal for slashing the student, I cross the
road or walk the other way (and probably fantasise about what I'd do to them
if I could fight) because I fear confrontation and the threat of an attack.
But why should I be scared? I pay taxes through the nose, like most people
trying to earn a crust, and often wonder what I'm getting in return. Certainly
not a feeling of safety on the streets. Somehow it all seems wrong.
The recent pantomime-style picture of David Cameron in the newspapers
summed it up for me. An adult in a position of power, who recently demanded
we "hug a hoodie" and insisted it's time we started listening to the kids, had
not a clue what was going on behind him. There, stood an angry juvenile
waving an imaginary gun, without a clue who the man was, and not caring
who saw him.
So what do we do about these kids? Sit down and listen to them? Ignore
them and hope they keep their crimes within their own communities? Or
hit them head on with the full force of the law? Not an easy question to
answer and my excuse for not having an answer is that I'm a filmmaker
and not a politician.
But I do know this: when I was a teenager growing up and hanging
around council estates in south London, dabbling in drugs and petty
crime, I was met with the full force of the law fairly quickly. I was beaten
up by the police on a number of occasions and was chucked into a prison
service-run attendance centre. Between those experiences and having an
understanding mother who didn't turn her back on me because I was going
off the rails, I managed to turn my life around before things got out of hand.
Two things strike me. First, no one was pressing charges against the police
for roughing me up and teaching me a lesson; in those days there weren't
many sympathetic ears who wanted to take the police to court for heavy-handed
tactics. They were the law and you had to obey it, otherwise they'd let you
know about it. So I got a healthy fear of the law. I soon found out that if
you commit crimes you pay the price.
Second, with overcrowding in the prisons, the courts are either not convicting
first-time offenders or, if young criminals are sent to borstal, it's for such a
short sentence that it's hardly worth it. What sort of message is that to a
kid who is both angry and defiant? It's hardly likely to deter them, is it? And
what about paedophiles? When is someone going to understand that giving
them a one-year sentence for fiddling with kids is not going to be enough to
I'm angry. I'm angry at the way we seem to be going backwards, at the way
our country has stopped caring about itself. There was a time when we lived
in our communities without worrying about violent kids roaming the streets
with guns, or men wandering around our playgrounds. When we looked out
for one another, when we could walk home at night and not fear a random
Outlaw is an angry film about the failings of the Blair government, about
an impotent police force, and primarily about a group of like-minded men
whose lives cross paths, and who can't take any more. It's a letter to a
Labour administration (and I admit I was enthusiastic about Blair when
he came to power) which has done nothing for this country apart from
leading us into a pointless war or two, allowing crime to rule the streets,
and leaving us feeling powerless and disillusioned. The saddest thing is,
were I to have made this film in a few years' time, I would probably have
been singling out David Cameron.
Nick Love's film, Outlaw, starring Sean Bean, Bob Hoskins and Danny
Dyer, is released on Friday.
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