Welcome to The Prime Sublime, a weekly column dedicated to the underseen and underloved films buried beneath page after page of far more popular fare on Amazon’s Prime Video collection. We’re not just cherry-picking obscure titles, though, as these are movies that we find beautiful in their own, often unique ways. You might even say we think they’re sublime…
“Sublime /səˈblīm/: of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe”
Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000) made British gangster movies mainstream again in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Since then, films about foul-mouthed geezers with a penchant for violence have been commonplace in the country’s film industry. The majority of these movies go straight to home media and are often discredited as trash by highbrow critics, but like most other film genres, there are just as many gems as good films as there are bad ones. Berlin Job (originally released as St. George’s Day) is one of the better ones.
What’s it about?
Berlin Job is a tale of robbers and cops, with some football hooliganism thrown in for good measure. Genre stalwart Frank Harper (who also directed the film) plays Mickey, a London drug kingpin who rules the city’s organized crime network with his cousin, Ray (Craig Fairbrass). Mickey is content being a criminal for the rest of his life, but Ray wants to get out of the game and open a luxury golf course. Ray plans on doing one last job before he goes legitimate, but when their shipment of drugs gets lost in the North Sea, the crime cousins find themselves on the wrong side of some ruthless Russian gangsters.
With Mickey and Ray in debt to the mob — in addition to being pursued by a tenacious detective (played by Nick Moran) — the duo assembles their criminal colleagues and head to Berlin. Their plan is to pull off an ambitious heist during a football game, as the local authorities will be more concerned with the fans who have taken to the city to cause trouble. It’s a full-proof plan, but unfortunately for Mickey and Ray, there’s a traitor in the ranks, and he’s working with the old bill (translation: cops) to bring them down.
What makes it sublime?
With a supporting cast that includes Neil Maskell, Vincent Reagan, Charles Dance, Sean Pertwee, and Dexter Fletcher, Berlin Job is The Expendables of low-budget British crime movies. But unlike Sylvester Stallone’s star-studded action franchise, Berlin Job is an entertaining movie that does a great job of giving every member of its all-star cast some time to shine while delivering plenty of thrills.
This is due to an entertaining script that’s loaded with top-notch “manly man” dialogue, which is an expected mix of witty and super macho. Expect plenty of F-bombs and liberal use of the C-word, uttered by a group of performers who grew up in the east end of London and probably got into a few fights and slagging matches back in the day. There are also some jingoistic monologues (“the English never yield”) that will undoubtedly resonate with your average Brexit voter, but in the film’s defense, English gangsters and football hooligans aren’t exactly woke.
However, there’s a blue-collar, no-nonsense authenticity to the performances that the actors just sink into, which makes for some compelling viewing. Like the central characters, it’s a movie that was made by filmmakers who came from the ends and became successful through grit and determination. Harper and Fairbrass both came from working-class backgrounds and worked in laboring jobs before they were discovered. Their characters in Berlin Job are similar, albeit in a criminal context.
Berlin Job also isn’t the type of movie that’s interested in casting male models in the roles of geezers. This is an ensemble of grizzled genre veterans who like the pints, kebabs, and cigarettes. They have beer bellies, receding hairlines, and they’re rough around the edges. But that’s what makes them beautiful. When it comes to movies about thugs, I want to watch performers who come across as genuinely intimidating.
While the story isn’t groundbreaking, it moves at a fast pace and there’s a globetrotting ambition on display that overshadows the more predictable and generic elements. The characters bounce between London, Amsterdam, and Berlin, being all hedonistic and committing unlawful acts. There’s never a dull moment in Berlin Job, and that goes a long way for me. It also doesn’t hurt that the movie is unabashedly excessive and in love with gangster and action movie tropes, which fans of these genres will appreciate.
Harper is also a very confident and competent director who knows how to get the best out of his actors, and he’s a filmmaker with an eye for style who knows what he wants. It’s a shame that he hasn’t helmed any movies since Berlin Job. Some viewers who only know him as a hard-man actor in movies like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and The Football Factory (2004) might actually be surprised to learn that. He has a cinematic eye and a clear fondness for eye-catching backdrops, which make the film seem grander in scale than it actually is. Berlin Job’s budget was pennies, but it looks like a multi-million dollar movie.
And in conclusion…
Berlin Job is a red-meat crime movie about bad blokes shit-talking each other and getting up to no good. The movie takes place in a world where shady characters have conversations next to waterfronts at night and the violence packs a stylish punch. If you’re a fan of films of this ilk — especially in the vein of Ritchie’s defining works — you’ll have some fun with Berlin Job.
That said, it’s also a movie that deserves a wider audience as Harper shows plenty of promise behind the camera. Unearthing these overlooked gems in the hope that talented filmmakers get more exposure is what this column is all about, and I firmly stand behind the opinion that Harper is a director with lots more to offer the world of gangster films.