Well, although I’m still gradually working my way through the next book I plan to review, I was in the mood for another film. So, I thought that I’d check out a rather interesting comedy heist/crime caper film from 2001 called “High Heels And Low Lifes”.
This was a film that I vaguely remembered seeing advertised in magazines at the time and since it’s been ages since I last watched a comedy heist film and because I was still in the mood for “feel good” films, I decided to look online for a second-hand DVD of it. To my delight, the old DVD also included a little booklet that extolled the cutting-edge wonders of “The DVD Experience”. Oh my god, the nostalgia!
So, let’s take a look at “High Heels And Low Lifes”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild SPOILERS.
The film begins in London with a group of rough Cockney gangsters carrying out an elaborate and painstaking heist on a safety deposit facility. In another part of the city, a man listens in to random phone calls and edits them together into some kind of mixtape. In a nearby hospital, a nurse called Shannon (Minnie Driver) finishes her shift and goes home to celebrate her birthday with her boyfriend, Ray. However, he’s too busy with his experimental phone call-based music project to go out to dinner with her. Furious, she storms out of the house.
Meanwhile, a down-on-her-luck American actor called Frances (Mary McCormack) is performing in a bizarre avant-garde play in a small theatre. When she returns to the dressing room, her friend Shannon is already there and is still angry about Ray. Frances decides that the solution is to go out clubbing and get absolutely hammered.
When they get back to Shannon’s house, Ray is gone. However, he has left his computer and phone scanner on. Frances listens in to a random mobile phone call and, after hearing something about a bank job, she scribbles the phone number on her hand before eventually falling asleep. The next day, Frances tries to do some voice-acting for a cartoon whilst extremely hungover and Shannon breaks up with Ray. Then, both of them happen to spot a TV news report about the robbery.
Frances rushes to the hospital to talk to Shannon. The phone number on her hand is still just about legible and she’s got a plan to solve both her financial worries and get some new equipment for Shannon’s under-funded hospital by blackmailing the bank robbers. What could possibly go wrong?
One of the first things that I will say about this film was that it was a lot of fun to watch 🙂 Yes, the plot is more than a little bit silly if you actually think about it but, if you just want to relax with a funny “feel good” crime caper film or you suddenly find yourself struck by rose-tinted early 2000s nostalgia, then this one is well worth a watch 🙂
So, I should probably start with the film’s hilarious comedy elements. In addition to a few well-placed and well-choreographed moments of farce and slapstick comedy (featuring some gloriously pyrotechnic special effects), this film is not only a good parody of the “Cockney gangster” genre, but it is also filled with lots of amusing characters and dialogue too. Yes, a few brief moments may seem dated, but – overall – this film was even funnier than I’d expected.
The core of the film’s comedy comes from the friendship between Frances and Shannon. Not only are they amusing characters in their own right, but they are also different enough to allow for lots of amusing arguments, irreverent moments and dialogue exchanges. Of course, this is to be expected in a comedy. However, this film excels itself with the way that the dynamic between them changes as the film progresses – with Frances going from being the impulsive one to being a bit more cautious and Shannon doing the exact opposite. This allows for some brilliantly funny moments in the later parts of the film – which I won’t spoil.
In contrast to Frances’ optimism and hilarious impressions of a rough Cockney gangster (including confusion about US and UK slang), Shannon also brings some much-needed cynicism to the film too. Not only that, the instantly likeable dynamic between the two main characters is also complemented with an excellent supporting cast, including Mark Williams as a world-weary detective (if you’ve watched “Father Brown“, then seeing him play a more “realistic” detective is even funnier) and Danny Dyer playing… well… Danny Dyer.
As for the film’s crime thriller elements, they’re fairly well-edited and the story flows well, but it is important to remember that this film is a comedy. In other words, these elements of the film are very much on the stylised side of things and often include all sorts of contrived coincidences, farcical moments and blatantly unrealistic events. But, although the plot certainly has it’s fair share of holes, the film still gives the impression of a well-plotted heist thriller. Still, don’t expect a “realistic” story here:
The fact that it’s so funny and the characters are so likeable means that it’s easy to overlook all of this stuff and just get caught up in the mindless fun of it all. It’s a parody of “tough” 1990s gangster films (like “Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels”) that is also well-written, edited and acted enough to stand on it’s own two feet even if you aren’t that familiar with the genre.
On an interesting side-note, the heist at the beginning of the film also seems eerily prescient when watched these days, given that it is vaguely similar to the notorious real one in Hatton Garden in 2015.
I also really loved the stylised early 2000s atmosphere of the film 🙂 This is a time period that is just slightly too recent for popular nostalgia to have caught up with yet, and it is so interesting to see. The film is just about modern enough to still feel fresh today (aside from a couple of fairly “politically incorrect” lines of dialogue from the villains) whilst also being a fascinating glimpse into a lost world very different to our own.
Whether it is the slightly more hedonistic atmosphere of the time (which is a joy to see in this miserable age), the fashions of the time, the cynical/irreverent attitude, the old mobile phones, the remnants of the “Cool Britannia” thing from the 1990s, actual telephone boxes (complete with dodgy postcards), pre-9/11 optimism etc… this film is a really fun glance into the better parts of a world that has disappeared. So, if you want to take a very rose-tinted glance back in time, then this film is worth watching for this alone.
In terms of lighting and set design, this film is fairly good. Yes, the film mostly takes place in fairly “realistic” locations, but the addition of a few well-chosen exterior locations (eg: a large rooftop garden, a scrapyard etc..), the fact that Shannon’s house reminds me a bit of the set of the old TV show “Bits” and the sumptuous homes of the film’s gangsters help to add some distinctiveness to the film. Likewise, although a good part of the film takes place during the day (so the lighting isn’t always as noticeable as it is in films from the 1980s/90s), I love the fact that this film comes from a time when films weren’t as de-saturated as they often are today.
All in all, this is a funny “feel good” crime caper film that was an absolute joy to watch and is also an interesting piece of rose-tinted early 2000s nostalgia too. Yes, the plot is more than a little bit silly if you actually think about it too much, but this is all part of the fun of the film. So, if you want a rather amusing farce with fairly likeable main characters, lots of funny dialogue and a mildly “retro” atmosphere, then this one is well worth a watch.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least a four.