Synopsis: Released from prison, a man returns to his violent ways when a menacing drug lord threatens his indebted brother.
Stars: Craig Fairbrass, George Russo, Izuka Hoyle, Mark Monero, Tomi May, Eloise Lovell Anderson, Taz Skylar, Nicholas Aaron, Michael John Treanor, Marcus Onilude, Robert Glenister
Director: Philip Barantini
Running Length: 97 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Over here in America we think we’ve got the gangster movie nailed down and maybe we’ve had a good run but there’s something about the way our friends over in the UK do it that elevates it to another level. Though Guy Ritchie is credited as revitalizing the crime thriller for a new generation with his slate of movies in the early 2000s which combined rough action and slick dialogue, it overly complicated what is ostensibly a simple genre. All that flash may give the feature an interesting look but it’s the performances and plot that propel these hard-nosed titles forward into success. While Ritchie made a play to regain some of that magic with The Gentlemen earlier this year, it still leaned a little too much on the side of style over substance…but it was on the right track.
Now we have Villain, a smaller title with no A-listers to amp up the star quality and it winds up running circles around The Gentlemen for the plain fact that it goes back to the original formula instead of designing from the next gen hybrid. It’s a hard-nosed, bloody knuckle ride that feels like it was working from script that’s been around since the 70s. That’s not a bad thing, either, because it keeps the world of our characters small and the attention focused, creating a cracking action package that also takes interesting dramatic turns.
Having served his time in prison, Eddie Franks (Craig Fairbrass, Cliffhanger) is headed home to take back the family pub from his ne’er-do-well brother Sean (George Russo, also a co-screenwriter) who has been keeping it afloat during his absence. Though the watering hole continues to generate steady business from the locals, Sean has a side operation with a few ruddy drug runners that have set him up in a shady extortion plot. With Sean’s life on the line and Eddie not wanting to go back to prison so soon for kicking the tar out of these men, the brothers offer to peaceably make good on the debt and let everyone be on their way but when the thugs push back it sets a chain of gruesome events into motion. With his family on the line, Eddie has to come out of his good guy retirement to protect his brother, his business, and his estranged daughter (Izuka Hoyle, Mary Queen of Scots) that wants nothing to do with him.
Actor turned director Philip Barantini oversees his first feature film and it captures the feel of those 70s British gangster films while still retaining a modern sensibility. It’s obvious Barantini has done his homework and while the movie doesn’t feel old-fashioned or overly reverential, you can see that it is definitely tipping its hat toward the films it was inspired by. The same feeling is found in Russo and Greg Hall’s efficient script. The characters are fairly well defined and we know as much as we need to about them so that their motivations make sense. The introduction of Eddie’s daughter could have been a typical saccharine development but the way Fairbrass and Hoyle play it we know that a resolution won’t be wrapped up in a bow in the course of 97 minutes.
I wasn’t familiar with the work of Fairbrass before this but looking over his IMDb credits he’s amassed a lot of similar roles over the years. He fits into that elder Jason Statham role and I wouldn’t be shocked to hear this was originally offered to Statham, which is meant as no disrespect to Fairbrass because I think he wound up being the better choice anyway. He’s an intimidating presence but soft-spoken, you know he’s paying you respect by not slapping the hell out of you if you look at him sideways. While the supporting cast is solid across the board, this movie belongs to Fairbrass and he’s a commanding (and affable) lead.
Though it starts to run out of steam and interesting places to go near the end, I wasn’t quite sure for the majority of the movie where Villain was headed. For once, I could have imagined countless different solutions that would have been a satisfying finale and the one that was chosen likely makes the most sense dramatically. As much as the movie is about settling up old scores and paying for actions, it shows that no one is above consequences, even purportedly minor ones.