Directed by Adam Collins & Luke Radford
“Who do you think you are? Bruce Willis?”
So says one cop in new Nottingham film Outlawed. And by all accounts, co-director, co-writer and main star of the film Adam Collins – also a former Royal Marine Commando – may just be exactly that in his new flick which does a damn good imitation of Die Hard and similar retro actioners.
We open on Nottingham in 1996 as we hover over the city at night before unhinged criminal Harry Archibald (Ian Hitchens) executes the city’s Mayor in an alley in a ruthless power move. But the whole incident is witnessed which sets in motion the story of Outlawed.
A local film of some flair, we are then whisked away to Afghanistan – via a CGI plane – and the first thing to note is the amazing production values of what could have been a homemade affair.
As the titles roll we get a parachute drop, a shoot-out and an impressive award ceremony. Whatever little money the filmmakers have is all up on screen and whilst the accents keep it firmly a Midlands film, the movie has far more Hollywood sheen than I was expecting.
This is partly the result of the fantastic professional look from the five cinematographers. The shadows, the lighting, the silhouettes and even the daytime shooting from the combined efforts of Robert Beck, Troy Edige, Will Price, Nico Turner and Louis Vella all make it incredibly visually interesting. They film Nottingham landmarks such as Trent Bridge, Nottingham City War Memorial and Nottingham Council House with great skill from the start.
Back to the story, we get to find out that commando Jake O’Neill returns from war to be offered a deal with Archibald now in his new position of power. After refusing he struggles to adjust to normal life and when he finds his girlfriend cheating on him, his life begins to spiral out of control.
However, when a girl from his past (Jessica Norris as Jade Roberts) contacts him to investigate her father’s death, he agrees but soon after a failed rescue mission in which a young boy loses his life, Jake completely self-destructs in orgies of drink and drugs. The film’s acting is solid but there are times when clichéd dialogue slips in a bit too often (“I’m not cut out to play happy families”, “welcome to the party” and “there’s no school like the old school”). These are quirky nods to other action films but seemed a bit too familiar in their repetition.
However, it’s the action – also influenced by 80s and 90s classics – that is most impressive here. A deal-gone-wrong at a car yard that ends in a violent shootout with machine guns and explosions and is impressively handled. And as the narrative steamrolls ahead – albeit a bit messily – there’s frankly no time to get bored at all.
A sequence of commandos tackling an armed group of hostage-takers filmed in an abandoned factory has echoes of Robocop and slews of bloodied guts hark back to Verhoeven’s other brutal classic Total Recall. A nice Wilhelm scream is a sly nod to old Hollywood stunt-work yet leads us to the amazing sound mixing. Outlawed has expertly handled the difficult balancing act of complex explosions and gun shots alongside the dialogue and is a joy to the ears as well as the eyes!
From a snow-covered graveyard to an impressive church, the sheer variety of visuals throughout is spectacular for this level of filmmaking. Only an operation room betrays the film’s production values. Yet, as we pick up Jake in his most dire of times, his dismissal means he heads to a casino to gamble. And with his tuxedo and liquor, Adam Collins could easily be considered for the next James Bond. Some racy sex scenes are sprinkled throughout and Collins’ natural charm on screen works well with the confidence shown behind the camera where he has utilised different influences from a genre he’s clearly passionate about.
And whilst the script could do with some polish, the film’s ending is a spectacular revenge action sequence as Jake rescues his loved one from the clutches of the villain. Getting to this point we have seen all the right pieces for a Hollywood actioner – sex, style, seedy goings on as well as guns, bullets and explosions. However, this breath-taking finale will satisfy and then some. The full rampant final sequence includes motorcycle stunts, snipers, fist fights, people on fire as well as grenades and a rocket launcher (!)
Filmmakers who feel the leap from the local to Hollywood is too huge a barrier should study Outlawed. With plenty of inventive filming techniques, the film is the kind of movie that can see filmmakers move from the independent scene to larger studio-helmed projects.
One of the hardest things for me here is to review the film as being at the high end of the low budget local film community OR the low end of the high budget film community. It straddles both which is actually a huge compliment. Fans of Olympus Has Fallen will enjoy this, but the film demonstrates how local filmmakers are no longer showing them to “just their mates” but creating movies vying for position on your shelf or in your Netflix playlist.
Certainly not without some flaws – most of which come from a handful of over-used genre clichés – Outlawed should be seen as a high benchmark for regional filmmakers looking to create feature films that can compete in the big leagues. Tackling a genre – action – that requires a high degree of skill and dexterity on technical aspects like stunts, special effects and fight choreography is also no easy task. The fact that Outlawed delivers plenty of all of these in spades is testament to the startling cinematic talents of all the incredible cast and crew. And action fans will love the high-octane thrills and shattering action all the way through.