Dave takes the short trip across the Mersey to cast his eye over a grisly U.K.-U.S. co-production.
My home town of Liverpool has long shared a mutual history with New York. From the nine-million European immigrants who passed through the English port on their way to a new life in America, to sharing the same working class ethics and embracement of multiculturalism…
And then there’s that mid-noughties DTV’er with Armand Assante.
“Hollywood is coming to Liverpool” reported journalist (and now Sky’s Deputy Political Editor) Sam Coates in The Times back in May 2003 , when prolific French producer Philippe Martinez announced at Cannes that the next six ‘big budget’ Bauer-Martinez productions would be filmed in Liverpool.
At the time, Martinez had been out in Eastern Europe utilising the favourable economics of Romania to shoot pictures like Wake of Death (2004) and The Defender (2004). Meanwhile, on the banks of the River Mersey, it was a boom period for Liverpool in terms of filmmaking. In 2003 alone, the local film office reported that six-hundred and twelve days had been spent that year shooting on location, as it hosted productions of Danny Boyle’s Milllions (2004) and Charles Shyer’s Alfie (2004).
Shooting shortly after Martinez’s bold announcement was the first of his movies, DIGITAL REAPER.
And as so often happens, it was also the last.
Quite why this bold plan from the Frenchman didn’t materialise will forever be left to conjecture, but at least we’ll always have Assante hacking his guts up while attempting to get to grips with the concept of the internet.
The New York born actor plays Detective Charlie Daines, a relic of a cop who’s the last remaining artefact from another era of policing. To amplify just out of touch he is, there’s a serial killer on the loose in town who’s broadcasting each of his kills live on the web. As if that wasn’t enough to make his grizzled existence a living hell, Daines is also dying of cancer; a fact he keeps to himself while injecting himself with smack that he’s bought from a hooker (Morven Christie) in order to perk himself up for his day job.
Digital Reaper is a dark, dark feature that’s able to sit quite snugly alongside the other great direct-to-video Se7en (1995) derivatives like Mario Azzopardi’s Bone Daddy (1998) and David Worth’s The Prophet’s Game (2000).
Geordie director John Irvin came to the picture with a storied career behind him having started in British television before heading to Hollywood to lens Raw Deal (1986) for Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the stunning Vietnam flick, Hamburger Hill (1987). While Digital Reaper finds Irvin working to a tight budget, he’s able to blend the Liverpool and New York locations seamlessly with editor Peter Przygodda (Wings of Desire (1987)) to craft a depraved and disturbing feature.
Having said that, it could be better. Momentum isn’t Digital Reaper‘s greatest attribute, and it’s prone to moments of inertia that occasionally strangle the narrative. Assante is magnificent though. Fresh from his sublime Anthony Hickox trifecta of Last Run (2001), Federal Protection (2002) and Consequence (2003), Daines is a role that fits to each contour of his weary demeanour.
Despite the fanfare, there’s an irony in the fact that it took Digital Reaper until September 2009 to stumble onto UK home media, having debuted on DVD in Holland during the spring of 2005. It hit American video stores six months after that, distributed by Blockbuster Video’s very own DEJ Productions and flirting with a variety of titles that included ‘Digital Jesus’ and ‘Dot.Kill’.
UK, USA ● 2004 ● Thriller, Drama ● 87mins
Armand Assante, Sonny Marinelli, Stanley Townsend, Clare Holman ● Dir. John Irvin ● Wri. Andrew Charas, Robert Malkani
 ‘Hollywood Set to Make Liverpool a Star City’ by Sam Coates, The Times, 22nd May 2003