This bank robbing slash extortion fable has many, many things to recommend it to the film-viewing public. Released in 2001, its initial appearance caused no more than a slightly raised eyebrow and perhaps even a slight smirk, dismissed as just another unsuccessful british attempt at a spoof crime film. To the contrary, High Heels and Low Lives is a refreshing and witty example of why there should be more gangster films with lead characters played by women.
Shannon (Minnie Driver) and Frances (Mary McCormack) make a very entertaining double act in extortion and blackmail as a diligent nurse and a down on her luck actress from America, who has been reduced to putting all her acting skills into auditioning to voice an animated alien tomato.
Shannon and Frances come home after a drunken night out and, by overhearing a phone conversation, find out that a nearby bank is at that very moment being robbed. They go to the local nick to report it but the police are up to their armpits in drunks and decline to attend. The ladies later discover that the bank job netted the robbers ten million squid and understandably decide to blackmail them for a few hundred grand. Shannon wants the money for the hospital, for an incubator thing or some tubey stuff, Frances wants it because the money was in bank safety deposit boxes and was probably stolen in the first place.
The big bosses of the racket get involved and things turn very real, inevitably ending in the traditional style of such films: a massive shoot out.
How many films can boast such scenes; an American woman [pretending to be a man] swearing down the phone in a (not bad) cockney accent, demanding lots of money from a gangster while he threatens her. Frances, seemingly undaunted, intones in her excellent impression of an east London tough guy: “Save the big scary gangster talk twathead, just get that money ready or else”. This is followed by a bitter struggle over a briefcase in a field near Three Bridges, while a herd of cows look bemusedly on. There are also numerous scenes where Danny Dyer plays to his strengths: his character is a supremely irritating amateur thief and he manages it exactly.
There is an excellent cast alongside Driver and McCormack; comedians Kevin Eldon and Mark Williams play bumbling detectives on the tail of the ladies while they are on the tail of Danny (Dyer) and his bosses Mason (Kevin McNally) and Kendrick (the brilliant Michael Gambon). The dialogue is never boring and the gangsters, while being very amusing and stereotypically gangster-y, still retain an edge of menace. There is some cool London location work, especially the scenes where Frances and Shannon discuss their next move on top of a disused train bridge overlooking happening Shoreditch and another in which Kerrigan fumes at seeing his name on a billboard in Westminster.
Mel Smith directed this fun film, which has fairly few negative points considering the well-trodden subject matter. The most annoying negative is definitely the very unimaginative women’s lib ending, but as it’s the last minute of the film it is mostly forgivable. The cheesy gangster/blackmail scenes are conducted with a great sense of humour and aplomb which is missing in many other films of this type. If you haven’t seen High Heels and Low Lifes, do give it a go; this is one piece of british cinema which may not have been ‘commercially successful‘, but definitely deserves a wider audience.