Adapted from the novel by Green Street scribe Dougie Brimson, Top Dog (2014) is the latest offering from Jonathan Sothcott’s Richwater Films, who seem intent on burying British independent cinema under a mountain of cockney gangster flicks and inferior horrors. Unfortunately for anyone with even a modicum of taste, there’s undoubtedly a certain demographic that will lap up football hooligan dramas, and wouldn’t give “a monkey’s” if some jumped-up reviewer gives Martin Kemp’s Top Dog a critical hiding. Good for them. Ignorance is famously bliss, whilst the rest of us that unfortunately chose the rocky path of knowledge have to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous filmmaking.
Top Dog follows the tragic tale of Billy Evans (Leo Gregory), the self-appointed leader of a Tottenham Hotspur football firm. Sure, Billy enjoys the odd leisurely afternoon of mindless hooliganism, but he isn’t a bad geezer. He loves his wife Samantha (Danielle Brent), he looks after his mates and he’s more than willing to help out his auntie and uncle who are being forced to pay protection money to local criminal enterpriser Mickey (Ricci Harnett). Alas, once poor Billy starts mixing it up with the criminal underworld he quickly gets in over his head, which inevitably leads to dire consequences. It’s traditional at this point when reviewing a poor film to find a few positives, which proves that you’ve engaged your critical faculties and not just trashed somebody’s pride and joy because you’re having a bad day.
So, here it goes. Halfway through proceedings, Kemp (of Spandau Ballet fame) decides to juxtapose the death of a character with the birth of a child. You can just imagine the smile on his face, as if he’s just made film history, and not recycled an old trick in a crude and heavy-handed way. The script is paper-thin and confusing, the characters are underdeveloped and uninspiring, and Kemp’s direction is pedestrian and uninventive, with most of the dramatic tension being forced by a monotonous, spirit-crushing soundtrack. If you want to watch a film about hooliganism, Alan Clarke’s The Firm (1989) or Philip Davis’ ID (1995) are two superior offerings. Even Nick Love’s The Football Factory (2004) has it’s moments. Ultimately, if we’re measuring the success of a film by innovation, artistic achievement and contribution to the cinematic canon as a whole, then Top Dog certainly isn’t worth your consideration.