Coming Soon: Villain (2020) - Reviewed

British Gangster films have always dominated the genre, featuring memorable characters, shocking violence, and a surprising amount of wit.  Philip Barantini's debut feature Villain breaks with conventions, erasing any shred of wit and replacing it with darkness and grit.  Featuring a towering central performance by Craig Fairbrass, brutal violence, and a somber script, this is a solid, albeit predictable offering.  

Eddie is a recently released convict who is attempting to go straight while running a bar with his brother Sean.  When Eddie realizes that Sean is in over his head with powerful thugs, he struggles to not get dragged back into the criminal lifestyle, a struggle that has tragic consequences.  Craig Fairbrass gives the performance of his career as Eddie.  Greg Hall and George Russo's (who also plays Sean) script is unable to avoid comparisons to Carlito's Way, but Fairbrass bites into the material with fervor, chewing the scenery not as a frothing madman, but as a sleeping giant trying desperately to keep his fury at bay. While the bulk of the female characters loom in the shadows, Izuka Hoyle gives a scene stealing turn as Eddie's estranged daughter while Eloise Lovell Anderson has a memorable role as an exotic dancer caught up in the mayhem. What sets Villain apart is Barantini’s understanding of the sadness of his characters’ world and the film’s minimal, but realistic roles such as these that strengthen the picture overall.  

There are sequences of nauseating violence dappled throughout, enhancing the rules of Barantini's design by reminding the viewer that violence is always an option.  Aaron May and David Ridley's haunting score is perhaps the strongest element, bolstering Matthew Lewis' washed out cinematography.  While the clich├ęs' dominate the material, especially during the final act, Fairbrass' performance melds with the ambiance that Barantini creates to leave a lasting impression.  Villain is not an uplifting story.  It is populated with despicable souls and desperate criminals, but what it lacks in light, it doubles down on in dark; a haunting revelation that there is no escape from a life such as this, and perhaps that is the greatest boon of all.  Many pictures seek to idolize killers and their lifestyles.  Humanity in general is fascinated with organized crime and here, much like The Friends of Eddie Coyle, everything is portrayed with a surprising amount of realism.  

Coming soon to video on demand, Villain is a film you've almost surely seen before.  The character arcs are preordained along with a disappointingly predictable finale.  However, underneath these flaws remain a stalwart central performance and a grim understanding of the subject matter.  If sobering, violent crime sagas are of interest, there is much to mine, however if the goal is to watch a flashy gangster flick with catchy songs and a humorous denouement, look elsewhere.  This is London gentleman, the gods with not save you.

--Kyle Jonathan