A real-life gangland slaying in Essex, England — an event still remembered locally as “the Range Rover murders” — receives willfully exploitative treatment in “Bonded by Blood.” Covering similar terrain to that of Terry Winsor’s 2000 pic “Essex Boys,” Sacha Bennett’s sophomore feature revels in profane macho banter, cocaine-fueled aggression, casual misogyny and random brutality as dishonor among thieves sets a loose alliance of drug kingpins on a bloody collision course. Resulting concoction is likely to prove less than addictive to foreign auds, but U.K. distrib Revolver should push its product to multiple users on ancillary.
Action begins with subordinate gang member Darren Nicholls (Adam Deacon, from British urban-youth hits “Kidulthood” and “Adulthood”) informing the viewer directly that, “It was never going to be a happy ending.” Alas, a felicitous beginning and middle are also conspicuously absent from Bennett and Graeme Muir’s adaptation of Bernard O’Mahoney’s colorful memoirs.
Beginning in 1993, the plot initially cuts between prison where newly transferred inmate Pat Tate (Tamer Hassan) renews his friendship with felon Mickey Steele (Vincent Regan), and suburban Essex, where thuggish nightclub owner Tony Tucker (Terry Stone, one of the film’s producers) extracts big profits from the illegal highs retailed on his premises. Both Steele and Tucker are surviving characters from 2007’s “Rise of the Footsoldier” (exec produced by Stone).
Tate, Steele and Nicholls are all conveniently released from jail around the same time, and soon enter Tucker’s criminal sphere. The film loses all dramatic focus as it skitters among psychotic Tate, even-tempered Steele (now secretly romancing Tate’s ex-wife, played by Kierston Wareing) and malevolent Tucker, with young Nicholls — the ostensible point of identification for the audience — popping up occasionally to offer expository comment. Bennett is evidently more interested in the ensemble’s more colorful characters, but it’s hard to enjoy their jocular, chemically assisted pleasure in knife attacks, punishment beatings and vengeful humiliations.
“Bonded by Blood” belatedly hits its groove an hour in, when Steele decides to kill Tucker and associates before they eliminate him. Tension builds effectively as two gangster trios — one with relish, the other with regret — plan the execution of their rivals. The propulsive score, recalling the electronic dance sounds of the era, provides a significant assist to the climactic shootout in the snowy Essex countryside.
Tech credits reflect a tight budget, with production resources looking notably threadbare inside Tucker’s nightclub. Such limitations are par for the course; harder to indulge is the hit-and-mostly-miss thesping, with respected performers Wareing (“Fish Tank”), Alex MacQueen (“In the Loop”) and Michael Socha (“The Unloved”) afforded scant opportunity to raise the game. A coda suggests the official version of these events may be far different, calling into question the drama just depicted.