One of the many perplexing sequences in James Crow’s British gangster film, Nemesis, involves an unexpected encounter between a mob boss’s wife and her daughter’s new girlfriend. Sadie (Jeanine Nerissa Sothcott), the matriarch of the Morgan crime family, is in a topless négligée chatting on the phone at home when the intercom buzzer chimes. Expecting it to be her daughter Kate (Ambra Moore), who promised to help her pick out a dress, she is shocked to see Zoe (Lucy Aarden) walk through the door. As she was expecting to officially meet Zoe for the first time later that evening, there is an understandable awkwardness between the two women—one that Zoe tries to smooth over with compliments that clearly border on flirtation.
Aside from hinting that the flirtatious Zoe may not be as innocent as she appears, the purpose of the impromptu visit is to ask what type of wine she should bring to dinner. The sequence is meant to subtly set the stage for two key moments later, but the gratuitous nature of how it plays out feels at odds with the scenes sandwich around it. What makes it especially ridiculous is that there’s a video screen attached to Sadie’s intercom, which is referenced multiple times in the film, which should have eliminated the element of surprise completely.
I bring this scene up not because I am a prude when it comes to nudity, but rather because it is indicative of everything that is wrong with Nemesis. There are numerous sequences that are either not fully realized or feel out of place with the shifting tone of the film. Crow’s drama frequently thinks it is taking bold steps when it is actuality tripping over all the cliched and half-formed ideas left scattered on the floor. The film desperately wants to breath new life into the extremely well-trodden crime genre, but its mishmash of ideas only serves to highlight the fact that sometimes the traditional path is best.
For most of John Morgan’s (Billy Murray) life doing things the old way has been financially beneficial. While he’s conveyed the image of an average businessman to the world, Morgan has built a criminal empire buying and selling on the black market. When he returns home to London with Sadie for a few days of business and a visit with their daughter Katie, after years of the couple living abroad, Morgan soon realizes that the past has comeback to haunt him.
Alcoholic rogue cop Frank Conway (Nick Moran), who has unfinished business from his own past, makes it clear immediately that he intends to bring Morgan to justice for his numerous crimes. While Conway lacks the evidence and support from the force to pin anything on the underworld boss, his presence makes others within the mobster community uneasy. This is especially true for fellow crime boss Damien Osborne (Bruce Payne), a man who thinks Morgan’s ways of making money are outdated and that anything that brings attention to their world is bad for business.
Although Osborne openly pressures Morgan to retire, the old-school gangster is not ready to hang it all up yet—at least not on someone else’s terms. Deciding to set a plan in motion that will ensure his brother Richard (Frank Harper) and his driver/surrogate son Eddie (Danny Bear) take over the business and keep it out of Osborne’s clutches when he is gone, Morgan quickly learns that one cannot truly prepare for the future without first addressing the past.
Much like its protagonist, Nemesis is a film that feels stuck in the past, despite its various attempts to be modern and relevant. At times it plays like an old school British gangster film and, at others, it takes the form of a home invasion film straight out of The Purge. With so many competing ideas bouncing around, the pace and narrative often feel disjointed and at odds. Instead of building on the suspense that comes as Morgan and his family fear for their lives, Crow ends up defusing the tension by juxtaposing it with scenes of Conway detailing his father’s death and outlining Morgan’s role in what happened.
The juxtaposition wouldn’t be as jarring if Conway was someone audiences remotely cared about. Unfortunately, as with most of the characters in the film, his situation is just not as interesting as Crow wants us to believe. Conway represents the same tormented cop that has been depicted in countless crime sagas in the past. You just know there will be a scene where he is forced to turn in his badge, and that predictability is just a part of the problem.
In fact, Nemesis only manages to offer a handful of surprises. The few genuine twists and turns are never fleshed out with any depth and as a result, several of the reveals lead to more questions than answers. It also does not help the film that several characters make silly, silly decisions—like untying a hostage to mock them—for no other reason but to keep the plot moving forward. Unable to withstand the weight of its own over-plotting, Nemesis is its own worst enemy.