The gangland turf wars that preceded the 2012 Olympics in London provide the dramatic backdrop to The Corrupted, a bare-knuckled crime thriller loosely based on real events. Back in the early 2000s, when Britain was finalizing its bid to host the games, powerful underworld figures sensed a major opportunity. If the pitch proved successful, low-value land around the impoverished East End site earmarked for Olympic regeneration would become prime real estate overnight, earning a huge profit through compulsory government purchase. Director Ron Scalpello’s punchy lowlife drama chronicles the lasting impact of this bloody gold rush on an interconnected web of ruthless mobsters, crooked politicians, good cops, bad cops and innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire.
There is enough rich narrative potential in The Corrupted for an ambitious state-of-the-nation TV miniseries in the mold of The Wire. Unfortunately, Scalpello and screenwriter Nick Moorcroft take the lowest common denominator route, falling back on tired mob-movie clichés, stock characters and leaden dialogue so generic it could have been written by an algorithm. A stellar cast headlined by Timothy Spall, former Hunger Games regular Sam Claflin and Downton Abbey veteran Hugh Bonneville will help fill seats as the film is released to U.K. theaters this week. But this Olympic saga barely limps past the finish line when it should be aiming for a bronze medal at least.
Clifford Cullen (Spall) is a well-connected crime boss, drug smuggler and property tycoon who appears to have half of London’s high-ranking police officers on his payroll. Tipped off about the impending Olympic windfall by his slippery politician friend Hammond (Bonneville), Cullen sets about removing any potential obstacles to expanding his East End empire, by lethal force if necessary. One of his victims is stubborn scrapyard owner Eamonn McDonagh (Shaun Dooley), who unwisely resists signing over his plot of land.
Fast-forward to the present day, and McDonagh’s grown-up son Liam (Claflin) is now an amateur boxer and ex-con, fresh out of jail and trying to rebuild relations with his estranged wife, Grace (Naomi Ackie). Reluctantly drawn into Cullen’s orbit, Liam is wary of the gangster’s fearsome reputation but still unaware of the man’s direct involvement in Liam’s father’s death.
When a fresh spate of murders throws new light on Cullen’s violent past, Liam vows revenge, forming an uneasy alliance with rogue detective Neil Beckett (Noel Clarke). But in a crime-ridden borough where not even close friends and family members can be trusted, the battle to bring down the whole rotten syndicate inevitably comes with a high body count.
Ripped and tattooed, Claflin has undeniable bad-boy sex appeal, but he makes a forgettably blank action antihero with this sub-Jason Statham performance. Of the key players, only Spall rises above the mediocre material with his menacingly calm presence, all deadpan sadism and hollow bonhomie. Spall even lends a tiny spark of topical mischief to the proceedings with a throwaway line about Britain’s ongoing Brexit crisis, which feels like an improvised addition to an otherwise relentlessly humorless script.
Scalpello and Moorcroft drop some heavy-handed homages to the British underworld classic The Long Good Friday, which also hinged on mafia involvement in East End land deals, but their half-baked gumbo of third-hand thriller ingredients looks risibly amateurish by comparison. That said, the kinetic action sequences are shot with a deft touch while cinematographer Richard Mott makes good use of East London’s post-regeneration zones as visual backdrop — not just the shiny new Olympic Park area but also other high-rise developments that have begun crowding the city’s skyline in recent years. Rich in icy blues and deep shadow, the film’s color scheme has an attractively noirish allure, though it veers too far into inky gloom at times. On a purely technical level, The Corrupted is competently crafted. But as a timely and gripping crime thriller, it misses the target by several miles.
Production companies: Eclipse Films, Reliance Entertainment Productions 8, Riverstone Pictures
Cast: Sam Claflin, Timothy Spall, Hugh Bonneville, Noel Clarke, Naomi Ackie, Shaun Dooley, Adam Long, Charlie Muphy, David Hayman, Lorraine Ashbourne, Joe Claflin
Director: Ron Scalpello
Screenwriter: Nick Moorcroft
Producers: Andrew Berg, Nik Bower, Laure Vaysse, John Sachs
Cinematographer: Richard Mott
Editor: Peter Christelis
Music: Andrew Kawczynski