‘Gambling’s got nothing to do with making money. It’s about winning and losing’, so begins the London gamblers epic A PUNTERS PRAYER, from first time writer/director Savvas D. Michael and newly formed Liontari Pictures. It spins multiple plates, and is at once violent, funny, heartbreaking and steeped in reality. It’s a fizzy, witty debut that bubbles with heart and grit, and is full of the rare confidence that instantly informs the viewer they’re watching something special and the product of a singular vision. While raw, the talent on display is undeniable and the storytelling exceeding the competencies of far more experienced film-makers. While it doesn’t break any original ground, it proudly wears its influences on its sleeve. It’s never less than enthralling entertainment.
Set on a Friday afternoon in a heightened reality version of North London, most of the action takes place in the local bookies ‘Theta Bet’. Serial gambler Jack, played by the excellent Tommy O’Neill is desperate to break away from ‘the wage slave circle of life’. He decides to bet £250 on a horse to win treble which, if all three horses win, would score him and his colourfully roguish friends a fortune. His best two pals, the clueless and scrappy Ian (Jamie Crew), and more measured and fatherly ‘spread your bets’ type Yiannis (Andreas Karras) advise, help and hinder Jack throughout the day. When it looks like a huge windfall may very well be within Jacks grasp, some unsavoury characters descend on Theta Bet ready to take violent advantage of this rare situation. Along the way in this ‘day in the life’ scenario we meet the regulars who live and die by the whims of Lady Luck, most notable is Paul (an always welcome Dexter Fletcher) who has a streetwise, debonair charisma and “bet big, win big” mentality. Another standout is Daniel Caltagirone who plays a soft spoken local gangster/drug dealer (and drives much of the third act).
Filming took place at Palmers Green in August 2014, unknown to many of the local residents and shopkeepers, so the various locations and details are completely authentic and realistically capture multicultural London as it is. Stylistically, A PUNTERS PRAYER is very eclectic, and this is immediately apparent with a harrowing scene from the denouement opening the film followed by a crudely animated, scene setting intro. Jack reveals much of his life philosophy through his poetic inner monologue narration, and it’s his ‘Punter’s Prayer’ the story seeks to answer through its 90 minute running time.
In all the best ways A PUNTERS PRAYER feels very much a throwback to the 90’s era of laddism, with its street poetry, ‘who dares wins’ philosophy and total focus on masculinity. It owes a sizeable debt to the Miramax era of cinema mostly, with it’s snappy, entertaining dialogue driving most of the action. Early Tarantino, Swingers and Clerks are invoked as are the early efforts of Danny Boyle and the Guy Ritchie of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch fame. Motorhead’s ‘Ace of spades’ and George Thorogood and the Destroyers “Bad to the Bone” are highlights from a rock soundtrack with brushes elbows with many instrumental world music cues.
It’s collage of many wonderful things but A PUNTERS PRAYER is ultimately a very, very entertaining and easy watch with enjoyable performances from everybody involved. Funny, violent and true, it manages to avoid the pitfalls of many directors first outings, and finds its odd tone immediately. It’s packed full of quotable dialogue and memorable scenes and characters and comes highly recommended.