Producer: Bart Ruspoli Director: Philip Barantini Screenplay: George Russo and Greg Hall Cast: Craig Fairbrass, George Russo, Izuka Hoyle, Robert Glenister, Mark Monero, Tomi May, Eloise Lovell Anderson, Taz Skylar, Nicholas Aaron, Michael John Treanor, Marcus Onilude and Jennifer Matter Distributor: Saban Films
As Michael Corleone learned, it’s not easy to go straight after a life of crime—circumstances keep pulling you back to the dark side. That old lesson is learned by Eddie Franks (craggy Craig Fairbrass) in actor-turned-director Philip Barantini’s debut feature, a Brit gangster melodrama told without the glitz and goofy ultra-violence of a Guy Ritchie opus. “Villain” is almost defiantly old-school, like its protagonist—which is both a virtue and a weakness: it’s solid, but also a mite stolid.
As the screenplay by George Russo and Greg Hall begins, Eddie’s just been released from prison, trading good wishes with the guards as well as the prisoners he’s leaving behind. He intends not only to leave him criminal past behind but make amends to his estranged daughter Chloe (Izuka Hoyle) and meet his little grandson.
Awaiting Eddie is his younger brother Sean (Russo), who’s kept the family pub running while Eddie was locked up. Unfortunately, as he soon finds out, Sean hasn’t been doing a very good job. A drug addict with a demanding girlfriend (Eloise Lovell Anderson), Sean’s deeply in hock to a couple of nasty gangsters, Roy and Johnny Garrett (Robert Glenister and Tomi May), who inform him that he’s responsible for paying off his brother’s debt—or he’ll have to turn over the bar to them.
Chloe isn’t quick to respond positively to Eddie, either. Her reluctance to give him a chance is complicated by the fact that she has a boyfriend named Jason (Taz Skylar) who’s definitely trouble.
Inevitably the need for quick cash leads Eddie back into the trade he’d hoped to renounce: though his friend Mike (Mark Monero) offers to help him out, Sean is more and more of a burden, and after the Garretts get violent, Eddie decides to respond in kind. The result is a violent blood-fest that culminates in a gory corpse-disposal scene.
For many genre fans that will easily be the stomach-churning highlight of “Villain,” which otherwise is a sturdy but grim tale of a man whose hopes for the future are dashed by circumstances beyond his control. It boasts a compelling turn from Fairbrass, who adds some nuance to a role that could easily have been a cliché. Russo makes Sean a convincingly pathetic weakling, and Hoyle is striking as Chloe. Oily Glenister and brutish May complement one another nicely as the nefarious Garretts.
The characters are placed within a vision of London—fashioned by production designer Aimee Meek and cinematographer Matthew Lewis—that’s convincingly grubby, and Alex Fountain has edited the film to a trim ninety-seven minutes, though with all the gloominess it can seem longer.
“Villain” doesn’t do much more than tell a familiar story in a fairly routine way, but its very ordinariness is somewhat refreshing after so many over-the-top British gangster movies.