It's only a dozen tube stops from Notting Hill to Walthamstow, but you won't catch Hugh Grant poncing about this end of London. Crime's a way of life round here (apparently), on a scale that rises from nicking cars to rubbing out the opposition. But before you start to fear another clueless gangland caper, take heart. It Was An Accident has more snap-of-the-fingers spirit than any of this year's shouty, sweary British crime flicks.
If you're a fan of Jeremy Cameron's novels (It Was An Accident is the second of three), then you're in for a surprise. The characters, setting and streetwise patter remain intact, but the messy plot (crooks, cops and councillors form a bond to dominate the local crime scene) has been jettisoned in favour of a story pitting one man's struggle to go straight against a vicious turf takeover battle, and features more of a generational and racial edge.
Unfortunately, this new story comes complete with its own set of problems. Without the background of the first book, the likeable, cheery Nicky we see on screen hasn't earned the sort of notoriety that would attract trouble from all quarters. Perhaps the film is trying to say too many things about the here-and-now of crime. East End relics, flashy psychos, cold-hearted `businessmen', dodgy coppers and everyday wide-boys are mixed in; but few are given space to develop into people with credible motivations.
Not that this is a criticism of Chiwetel Ejiofor's performance - he makes Nicky's joy at being out of prison as heartfelt as the character's frustrations and fears when it all goes wrong. While the shallow low lives around him bang on about "respect", Ejiofor reveals Nicky's more poignant fight for self respect - And that's what gives depth to this dynamic alternative to the gangland mainstream.
Director Metin Hüseyin and screenwriter Oliver Parker have a sharp eye for character quirks and a keen ear for fast and funny dialogue. For all its faults, it's good to see a crime film that's decked out in shell suits rather than camel coat clichés.