From Helier Bissell-Thomas, Kaufman’s Game started as a student project and ended up becoming the first micro-budget movie to be released in Odeon and Savoy cinemas. 

In Kaufman’s Game, young boxer Stanley is dragged into a world in which he never expected to find himself. A traditional gangster film set in the hustle and bustle of modern-day London, the film was written and directed by student filmmaker, Helier Bissell-Thomas.

It follows Stanley (Jye Frasca), a 25-year-old, unemployed surgical assistant who lost both parents when he was a child. His days are largely filled with knocking blows into a punch bag down at the local gym, where he is spotted by a nefarious looking character, Fader (Toby Osmond), who offers him steroids in exchange for a favour. However, it’s all part of a ploy cooked up by the mysterious Kaufman (Tor Andreas Fagerland) and his brood of mononymous hit-men including Jaeger (Rupert Shelbourne) and the Girl (Amy Louise Pemberton). 

Pretty quickly, the timid young Stanley is hooked on steroids and the mysterious, criminal ring have got their way. However, things don’t quite go to plan. Despite their best efforts to get him to pull the trigger and join the gang, Stanley refuses to be indoctrinated…until it’s revealed who Kaufman really is.

Kaufman's Game

Kaufman’s Game is the first micro budget movie to be release by Odeon and Savoy cinemas.

From a student filmmaker, Kaufman’s Game can hang its head proudly alongside other gangster films like Layer Cake, Snatch and in some ways, the BBC’s Hustle. However, it is wildly different from its forerunners in many ways. Without imitating it, Bissell-Thomas strips back the violence and all-guns-blazing action of Tarantino and Guy Ritchie’s aesthetics, and fuses it with classic Film Noir inspirations. In that regard, its pared-back, minimalist approach serves to render it a tense, old-fashioned gangster romp.

Kaufman's Game Helier Bissell-Thomas

Kaufman’s Game is the debut film from writer-director, Helier Bissell-Thomas’.

Although at times it is obvious the film had a limited budget, it rarely detracts from what is otherwise a compelling story. Although audiences might question why someone who was a surgical assistant would accept drugs from a dark stranger in sunglasses hanging around outside his gym, taken with a pinch of salt the story flows well. Underused is the Girl, who serves little purpose in the film beyond her obvious beauty, however her interactions with Kaufman leave the audience with the feeling that they want to know more about the pair’s relationship. Her performance is one of the more nuanced in the film, and leaves space for us to think she has a life outside the conspiratorial life lived by the other gang members.

If the challenge taken on by Bissell-Thomas was to prove that it doesn’t take a monster budget to produce a darkly captivating movie, he has succeeded beyond doubt. With beautiful shots, well-chosen locations and an unexpected plot twist, Kaufman’s Game puts Bissell-Thomas in a very good position to move on to bigger and better things. Whether that means bigger budgets is up to him.

★★★☆☆

Kaufman’s Game will be released on View-on-demand, DVD and Blu-Ray by Gravitas Ventures later this year.