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A film like Smoking Guns, also known as A Punters Prayer, has only one thing going for it and if it’s off by even a bit, it falls apart. That’s the characters, which might seem obvious right out of the barrel, but many movies can still get by on visuals and plot. With basically a single room as its setting, and a carousal of oddballs and quirky types swinging through the doors, Smoking Guns thrives on the characters that come and go. It’s not for everyone, but if Londoner black comedies are your thing, and you have even a passing interest in talky guerrilla filmmaking, this one will score big.
At the local bookies, a trio of friends spend a Friday afternoon, playing the action, talking big dreams and small chances. They’re led by Jack (Tommy O’Neill), a steady bettor wanting out of the rat race of weekly paychecks and so bets £250 on a horse to win the treble, which means if it wins all three of its races, would bag him a fortune, though the odds are astronomical against. With him are his pals Yiannis (Andreas Karras), an older guy with a hedge-your-bets attitude, and Ian (Jamie Crew), a wee-little man with a chip on shoulder. When two of the races come in his favor, news begins to spread, and in come some seedy fellows looking to tip the winnings their way, by any means necessary.
Written and directed by Savvas D. Michael, Smoking Guns is a chatty film, barely taking a moment to breath as the boys wax philosophical and ponder big and small as a game of wits and luck rules the roost as Jack stands his ground on a single bet that will either save him or end him. Michael starts his story with a jarring moment that sets a terrifying tone, though is cut off by a strip of purposefully amateurish animation and then a slow burn all the way back to the start. Stylistic to a degree, the film clips along on its snappy dialogue and Michael’s sharp direction, both of which give this some real crackle. While it has very little action, the sheer energy of the performances have it bristling from start to finish.
That begins with O’Neill, who is electrifying throughout, the singular stable mate in the bunch, determined and convinced in his luck and the guiding hand of his newfound faith, twisted as it is. Equally good is Crew, who takes the tropes of the scrappy underling and pumps him full of genuine emotional punch. The film itself does a sublime job of convincing you it’s a comedy until it swings ’round like hurricane and knocks flat any and all your expectations, with a truly disturbing and ambiguous end that will leave you debating what happens behind a closed door.
Smoking Guns is an odd film to be sure, but in the best possible way. Taking its influences to heart, it feels larger than it is and while not everyone is going to be on board with the style choices and rapid-fire pace, it earns its wings easily enough and is well worth a look.
Movie description: Smoking Guns is a 2017 crime drama about serial gambler on track to hit a big windfall but now has to keep the betting slip safe to collect the winnings.
Director(s): Savvas D. Michael
Actor(s): Tommy O'Neill, Daniel Caltagirone, Andreas Karras
Genre: Drama, Crime