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Empire State (1987)

Main image of Empire State (1987)
35mm, colour, 98 mins
DirectorRon Peck
Production CompaniesTeam Pictures , British Screen,Cine-Film, Film Four International
ProducerNorma Heyman
ScreenplayRon Peck
 Mark Ayres
PhotographyTony Imi
MusicSteve Parsons

Cast: Ray McAnally (Frank); Cathryn Harrison (Marion); Martin Landau (Chuck); Emily Bolton (Suan); Lee Drysdale (Johnny); Elizabeth Hickling (Cheryl); Lorcan Cranitch (Richard); Jamie Forman (Danny)

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The 'Empire State' is a night-club and the background to violent confrontations between the old gangster order and the London East End's 'New Wave' thugs dealing in drugs and male prostitution

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Empire State (d. Ron Peck, 1987) is an ambitious film which, like John MacKenzie's much-praised The Long Good Friday (1979), seeks to link the gangster genre with social and political developments in London's East End and Docklands in the late 1970s and the 1980s. Its genre style and futuristic settings were a new direction for its director, who was previously known for his realism. It also had a bigger budget and considerably greater production values than Peck's previous films. Consequently, high expectations attended its release and, although many were impressed with its scope, it generally disappointed because of its fragmented plot structure and some poor performances.

Despite these problems, the film has many interesting elements. It was made at a time of the massive and controversial development of London's Docklands, which becomes the site of conflict between Frank (Ray McAnally) and Paul (Ian Sears). Frank is an old-style East End gangster, along the lines of the Kray Twins, willing to use violence to get his way. His dominance of Docklands is challenged by Paul, who, despite once being close to Frank, has brought on board new money from wealthy West London. Paul desperately needs American investment to make it work. Thrown into this mix are other stock characters of the crime genre - the beautiful gangster's moll, the intrepid reporter, the naïve outsider.

One of the most interesting sub-plots involves Johnny (Lee Drysdale), who is hired to pleasure the American businessman (Martin Landau). Johnny is a good-looking, tough-talking rent boy trying to make enough money to make a fresh start in New York. Although the sex between Johnny and the American is brutal, their relationship is the most tender in the film.

The film comes to life in the end when all the characters, except Johnny and the American, converge on the Empire State, where the intricate plot strands are resolved in bloody conflict. A bare-knuckle fight is organised, with the contestants battling it out on behalf of their paymasters, while downstairs one desperate man, Danny, (Jamie Foreman), in debt and deserted by his club hostess girlfriend because he bottled out of robbing the club, showers the departing revellers with bullets.

Helen de Witt

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Video Clips
Long Good Friday, The (1979)
Peck, Ron (1948-)