There are a number of shorthand ways that you could describe Hyena. It’s a bit like Filth with a lot less humour. It’s a Michael Mann flick, with the gloss and style replaced by a down ‘n’ dirty, London-based vibe. Marleybone Vice, if you will. Whatever comparison you use, it’s also worth noting that Hyena is a damn fine film in its own right. The tension is so thick throughout that you could cut it with a knife, and none of the cast members slip up for even a second.
The plot concerns a cop named Michael (Peter Ferdinando). He’s a good cop, a man taking on the drug traders of London with three tough colleagues helping him at every turn. He gets results. The team also, however, uses unorthodox methods, like to enjoy the drugs that they seize, and aren’t averse to lining their own pockets when the opportunity arises. Michael has a lot of money invested in a new operation that’s going to score him a big financial return, but that all goes down the toilet when the man he was due to work with is killed by rivals. There’s a new breed of criminal taking over. The police have to evolve if they want to catch them, or even work with them. Michael wants to do both, and he’s used to getting his way. Unfortunately, he may have bitten off more than he can chew this time, especially as he’s trying to put all of the pieces in place while being investigated for corruption by a very determined officer (played by Richard Dormer).
Writer-director Gerard Johnson reteams with Ferdinando after getting such a great performance out of him in his feature directorial debut, Tony. Anyone who saw that movie will know that both director and star are talented people. Few people will expect the massive step up shown here. Tony was a great little movie, don’t get me wrong, but Hyena feels like an epic, despite the fact that it remains a focused, character piece for the majority of the runtime. It also has one or two moments of strong violence that’s not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, so be warned.
Ferdinando is fantastic in the lead role here, never less than mesmerising. Whether Michael is behaving or not, the grey moral area that he constantly moves through ensures that viewers must remain vigilant in an attempt to figure out just how he’ll be resolving different situations. Neil Maskell, Tony Pitts and Gordon Brown are all great as his buddies/workmates, although it has to be said that Brown is slightly short-changed while Maskell and Pitts get a few great moments each. Stephen Graham has been churning out excellent performances for years now, and his turn here is no different. The scenes in which Graham and Ferdinando weigh each other up, deciding on whether or not to hold on to past grievances, are just as tense as any scenes in which the cops are dealing with some dangerous criminals. And speaking of dangerous criminals, Orli Shuka and Gjevat Kelmendi are both worryingly convincing as the new big shots on the crime scene, the Kabashi brothers. Elisa Lasowski and MyAnna Buring both do well as, respectively, a victim of the Kabashi brothers and a friend of Michael. And the aforementioned Dormer is excellent as the officer wanting Michael to pay for his transgressions.
There are quite a few impressive camera shots helping the actors make the most of each scene, thanks to cinematographer Benjamin Kracun, and the music by Matt Johnson moves effortlessly between rhythms that depict building tension/energy and a suitably ominous style for the more brooding moments.
Smart, mature, gripping. This is entertaining and discomforting in almost equal measure. People may hate, or be frustrated by, the ending, but the more I think about it, the more I think that it was the only suitable choice. Still, I’ll be very interested to see what others make of the whole experience.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: GERARD JOHNSON
STARS: PETER FERDINANDO, NEIL MASKELL, TONY PITTS, STEPHEN GRAHAM, ELISA LASOWSKI, MYANNA BURING, RICHARD DORMER, ORLI SHUKA, GJEVAT KELMENDI
RUNTIME: 112 MINS APPROX