ByBenjamin Marlatt, writer at

Michael Logan (Peter Ferdinando) is an undercover cop tracking down London’s most notorious drug traffickers, while also doing a little side business with the Turkish and Albanian criminals. Following a drug deal gone bad, Michael finds himself in deep with the Albanians. But his problems are only beginning when internal affairs, as well as crooked DI David Knight (Stephen Graham), a former partner Michael almost put away years ago, are looking to ring him up on corruption charges.

Hyena is the type of police corruption thriller that if made in America would probably have filmmaker David Ayer’s name slapped on the poster. Films like these get churned out hundreds at a time each year, and if the aforementioned Ayer’s Sabotage is any indication, the genre’s not getting any more inviting any time soon.

Hyena, however, manages to rise above its pack of beaten to death, cliche-riddled fellow crime flicks.

So what sets this apart from the other run-of-the-mill, forgettable members of its class? For starters, writer/director Gerard Johnson’s style oozes with a dark, gritty mood throughout, opening with an intense and stylized drug bust where not a line of dialogue is spoken that will draw up comparisons to Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (the Pusher trilogy, Drive, Only God Forgives). Cinematographer Benjamin Kracun’s use of saturated neons and Matt Johnson’s (vocalist for the band The The) pulsating score create a dazzlingly grimy backdrop that sucks us right into the seedy underbelly of hell Peter Ferdinando’s corrupt narcotics detective has immersed himself in.

Johnson isn’t interested in humanizing or making a hero out of his lead protagonist (knowing the character, that term is used here a bit loosely). Michael Logan is a corrupt cop through and through, and there are no excuses made about that fact. Yet Ferdinando’s performance is so compelling, and the sense of desperation that comes upon him as all his corrupt deeds come back to bite him hard feels so genuine, that at least a glimpse of humanity manages to eek its way out of him.

Hey, I guess if the young Skywalker is able to sense some good within his father, of all people, then anything’s possible.

Equally strong is Stephen Graham (Al Capone from HBO’s Boardwalk Empire) as Michael’s former partner turned superior officer who’s still carrying a chip on his shoulder on what’s been done to him years ago. Some of the film’s most intense moments are the exchanges between him and Ferdinando. Together, they command the screen, ratcheting up the suspense with a tension that at times just quietly lingers (one, for example, is a scene where they attempt to mend fences over a couple drinks).

Understandably, some will find this off-putting. If the abrupt ending doesn’t upset them (the more I thought about it, the more I ended up liking it), the graphic violence will. While this isn’t in any way some cheap torture porn flick like Hostel, the realism used in depicting the violence (particularly an unsettling rape scene) provides a shocking yet grimly fitting kick in the teeth.

Beautifully shot, slow burn paced and directed with style that’s never showy, Hyena is a small but nevertheless taut crime thriller that contains a crushing and unrelenting bite that’s every bit as nasty as the scavenger animal its named after. It’s a path we’ve traveled down before many times, and will travel down again many times afterward, but Gerard Johnson’s direction and Peter Ferdinando’s excellent performance make it worth traveling down once again.

I give Hyena a B+ (★★★).

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