Genre: Documentary, Drama
Directed by: George Amponsah
On 4th August 2011 the police carried out a hard stop on the minicab carrying Mark Duggan. A high risk manoeuvre, the hard stop involves police boxing in a vehicle with the aim of taking the suspect by surprise. It didn’t go to plan; 29 year old Tottenham resident Mark Duggan was shot and killed after the police claimed he was holding a firearm. From this one police killing, a firestorm blew out of control, rioting spreading throughout London and other major cities over a number of days. The Hard Stop takes this as a starting point, setting its sights somewhere between broad and intimate. The result is a muddled but powerful story centered on two of Duggan’s friends.
Marcus Knox Hooke and Kurtis Henville grew up with Mark on the infamous Broadwater Farm estate. After an opening that features news footage of the police shooting and the subsequent riots, George Amponsah’s film begins with Marcus a year on. He’s been charged with inciting the riots and has a court case coming up shortly. His solicitor has advised him to expect eight years. Aside from an overreliance on moody slow-motion shots of the two young men looking up or walking around purposively, it’s a low-key affair. The camera follows Marcus at first as he discusses his situation, revisits the old estate and heads off to a Mosque after becoming a practicing Muslim a couple of years before. It’s the picture of a man brought up in an environment of extreme hostility towards the police, hostility that often appears to be fed by the actions of law enforcement officers, but also of a man trying to move on.
Lacing in more information about Mark Duggan, The Hard Stop draws a line back to the 1985 Broadwater Farm estate riot in which a police officer was killed. The implication is that people like Mark, Marcus and Kurtis are being indirectly punished for that killing, an event many from the estate pin on the police for invading, causing the death of a local resident and taking a heavy handed and racist approach to the predominantly black residents.With Marcus, the frustration following the death of his friend boiled over and took him onto the streets having once got away from that life. For Kurtis, who comes into the story in the second half, it’s a tale of a man still breaking free. He drives around delivering CVs to shops, sometimes stopping outside Carphone Warehouse to use their Wi-Fi in order to hunt for more work, musing on how much he used to earn in a past life but determined to make the new one work. His hostility to the police is just as strongly felt, particularly when attempting to retrieve his dog, taken under the Dangerous Dogs Act, but his struggles are of a slightly different nature. The true strength of the film is its ability to lay their lives out three dimensionally, putting forward their concerns without veering into stereotype.
The campaign to achieve justice for Mark Duggan picks up pace towards the end but it never entirely links in with Marcus and Kurtis, nor does Amponsah follow through fully on the line of argument started with the Broadwater Farm incident. Operating at this higher level, The Hard Stop feels a little lost and incomplete. Bigger picture moments are dropped in too rarely to meld fully with the narrative and too often not to seem glaring. It doesn’t matter much in the end. When zoomed in on Marcus and Kurtis, a powerful, bleak indictment of the life facing too many non-white Britons emerges. The killing of Mark Duggan raised a lot of questions. For Marcus, Kurtis and far too many others, answers are not yet forthcoming.