It’s not often that you watch a gangster movie that actually looks like it might have been made by members of the criminal underground. Baseline, a new, low-budget British film, has that feel. Menace and threat simply ooze from the screen. The actors are believably authentic – a benefit of the film makers not being able afford big names for all the parts.
Danny (Freddie Connor), an ex-soldier, works as a bouncer for a nightclub. As with most Brit-gangster movies, the club is in the seedier end of London’s East End. One day Danny uses his old soldiering skills to prevent his boss getting shot, the boss returns the favour by drawing him closer into his shady world of crime, violence and ruthless revenge.
The story revolves around the classic ‘good man in a bad world’ dilemma. Danny seems to be a basically decent guy, but he is saving to start a club of his own. Can he reap the financial rewards of working for the gangsters to build his dream, while keeping out of the murderous business of his new boss?
Everything gets more complex when Danny’s mate, Paul (played by UK martial arts expert Gordon Alexander) gets shot during a botched raid on rival gangsters. Paul survives, but gets put away for his crimes. It’s when he gets out that things start to get complex.
Terry (Jamie Forman), Danny’s boss and gangster’s gangster, wants the money back that Paul owes him – with interest. A lot of interest. Paul then starts a series of schemes to get the money. Danny, by now with a lovely girlfriend and growing increasingly disgusted with a boss who’d make Saddam Hussein seem like a champion of human rights, wants to help his friend. He inevitably gets drawn further into the world of this violent, lawless nut-job.
The sense of tension is intense. There’s one occasion where Danny, our hero, is seen in the nightclub toilet washing his hands – at any moment it seems as if some thugs will burst in on the scene and do him in. Luckily, this time, he manages to make it out of the loo in one piece.
Lots of films feature huge amounts of violence – machine guns are routinely sprayed about and punches thrown – but we rarely feel what this really means in all its raw, stomach-churning ferocity. Baseline is different, we’re never going to think this is cool. In fact, it’s horrible.
Not everyone can play an East End gangster, Jamie Foreman as Terry, is positively made for the role. He looks like he’s familiar with shady boozers, dog tracks and meat hooks – he also does psychopathic violence with great relish. Dexter Fletcher, first seen in Bugsy Malone back in the 70s, effortlessly plays Joe, another player flitting around the club. Freddie Connor acts for the first time in the lead role, ideal for a character who is new to the gangster business.
Although East London is probably more famous for curry houses and Brit Artists nowadays, after watching Baseline you’ll remember that it’s also the home to the British Gangster flick. Who doesn’t like a cheeky ruby every so often, and possibly even checking out the latest installation by Tracy Emin. But let’s not forget the joys of that gangster’s paradise either.