It’s one of the longest lasting of British movie genres – the gangster movie. Grittier and often more brutal, than its American counterpart, it’s managed to maintain its popularity, despite some recent offerings that would be best categorised under ‘B’. Philip Barantini’s Villain (not to be confused with the Richard Burton film of the same name from 1971) looks to be heading in the same direction, but in fact offers something with an unexpected sense of style.
The plot is familiar. Eddie (Craig Fairbrass) comes home to find that little brother Craig (George Russo, who also co-wrote the script with the director) has let things slide because of a drugs habit. The family pub, a haunt for the local villains, has seen better days and there’s little money to get it back on its feet. Worse still, he’s up to his neck in debt to local gangster Roy Garrett (Philip Glenister), who is determined to get his pound of flesh. And in the background of Eddie’s life is also his daughter, who he desperately wants back in his life. The pressure is on for him to sort it all out – and stay on the right side of the law.
Not that there’s much chance of him doing anything legal, even though he starts out with all the right intentions. The mess that he’s inherited from Craig calls for extreme measures and, in true British gangster thriller style, the film goes down the same rocky road – copious C-bombs spat out with venom, violence a-plenty and one particular scene that would be more at home in a slasher movie – but its downbeat style, a brooding score and a nostalgic use of slo-mo gives an end result which is surprisingly intelligent and sophisticated.
The cast plays a large part in that surprise. Fairbrass has been saddled with playing heavies since his time on EastEnders some years ago, but there’s more to his character this time around – a sense of being torn in several directions and a fatalism he just can’t escape. Glenister has always had a very nice line in vicious, slimy, nasties who can load even the most innocent of lines with menace and he’s perfectly cast here. Women are thin on the ground, however, but Izuka Hoyle is impressive as Eddie’s daughter, determinedly independent but curses with bad luck when it comes to the men in her life. The other female roles, such as they are, fade to a blur in the background.
Villain isn’t without the all essential clichés you’d expect and you can tick them off the list as the film progresses. But, given that fans of the genre haven’t had much to cheer about recently, the film’s dark tone and strong acting are definite reasons for optimism. British gangsters aren’t leaving our screens any time soon.
Thriller, Crime, Gangster | Cert: 18 | Vertigo Releasing | Digital | 28th February 2020 (UK) | Dir. Philip Barantini | Craig Fairbrass, Philip Glenister, George Russo, Izuka Hoyle.
Villain is also released on DVD on 20 April and can be pre-ordered here.