Here is a story of everyday life in Antwerp, where Adamo (Matteo Simoni) grew up with his three best friends, Volt (Said Boumazoughe), Lil Junes (Abdel Malik Farhouni) and the only girl in the group, Badia (Nora Gharib). They spent their childhoods more or less exclusively playing computer games, though they would occasionally break off from that for other activities - Badia was keen on kickboxing, Junes and Volt liked to breakdance - but once they reached young adulthood it was time to put away childish things. Or was it, they still were gamers sitting in their flat, after all. So what to do when opportunity came knocking, and they had a chance to make real money?
Belgian directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah had made a name for themselves in their native land with the downbeat crime drama Black, but with Gangsta, otherwise called Patser, their career began to build up a head of steam internationally, as their way with the camera was extremely stylish here, and seemed locked in for a bunch of big budget action movies in Hollywood. There was an obvious debt to Brian De Palma's remake of Scarface in the nineteen-eighties with this, a touchstone for a whole variety of would-be cool in movies, television and music videos, and they had admitted that work was a major influence on what they were attempting - you really couldn't miss it.
That meant neon, that meant fast cars, that meant violence, and that meant cocaine, mountains of it as if you were not aware, Antwerp was one of Europe's main drug trafficking centres, and you would be well versed in the ins and outs of that city's crime problem once the two hours of this were over. In truth, there was a sense the directors were a little too in love with their technique for this did not particularly need to sprawl quite as much as it did: it was either a tale of small time crooks in over their heads, or it was a crime epic spanning continents, and trying to be both did buckle the supports of what started out as a simple yarn with jokes about how rubbish drug dealers were.
Not that Gangsta was enormously hilarious, it raised a few smiles but the targets of dumdum hoodlums aiming for the easy life by turning to the criminal one (there is a fairly casual family connection with the underworld they exploit) were something we had seen many times before, and would again. Indeed, in Belgium the film received a lot of criticism as its depiction of the drugs-fuelled landscape many Belgians would prefer not to think about was regarded as far too glamorous in its presentation. To that you would counter, well, that's not exclusive to the European thriller market, and besides, if there was no attraction to the existence they showed off, the main foursome would look even more idiotic than they did in the first place - we had to understand what the appeal was to a bunch of kids barely out of their teens.
And besides, it's not as if there are no lessons to be learned about the downside of making you income from crime, which the directors with their taste for the grittier angle did not pull any punches about conveying, especially in the latter stages when the scam the quartet try to pull off lands them in hot water. As well as De Palma, and local hero Jean-Claude Van Damme in Kickboxer (!), that other gangster flick cornerstone Goodfellas was invoked, notably in Adamo's near-constant narration, littered with expletives which often were the same in English as they were in Flemish, funnily enough, suggesting the tendrils of American gangsta culture as heard in their music and media had spread across the globe, even to the day to day of a bunch of Belgian-Moroccan ne'erdowells. There was an abundance of energy here, and even when the plot was familiar the flair it was put across with solved a lot of narrative issues though you could argue it was rather too forgiving. But make no mistake, these two guys make a fairly low budget movie look like multimillion dollars. Music by Hannes De Maeyer.