Acts of Violence was directed by Brett Donowho (A Haunting at Silver Falls, 5 Souls), written by Nicolas Aaron Mezzanatto (SEAL Patrol, Verdict), and stars Cole Hauser (Tears of the Sun, Rogue), Shawn Ashmore (The Rookie, Aftermath), Ashton Holmes (The Pacific, The Divide), Mike Epps (Uncle Drew, Meet the Blacks), Sean Brosnan (Don Peyote, Generation Kill), Rotimi (True to the Game 2, Black Nativity), Melissa Bolona (Shark Lake, The Institute), and Bruce Willis (Trauma Center, Corrective Measures). It’s about a trio of siblings looking to save one’s fiancée when she’s kidnapped by a local human trafficker.
The Plot: Producers Randall Emmett and George Furla know what audiences are asking for with this kind of movie; get the rights to a passable screenplay and find helmers to put them to the screen in short order. In their scattershot range of scripts, they thankfully found Mezzanatto’s, which delivers a familiar story set apart by its occupants and darkness.
Detective Avery (Willis) busted in on a local storage and usage (for lack of better terms) warehouse full of drugs, trafficked women, and those abusing them only to find the aftermath of the mix. This bust has made Max (Epps), the leader of the ring, unhappy. He sends out henchmen Vince (Brosnan) and Frank (Rotimi) to find replacements for the girls he lost. Enter the MacGregor brothers: Deklan (Hauser), Brandon (Ashmore), and Roman (Holmes). All three are celebrating the engagement of the latter to Mia (Bolona), who goes out to a bar for a bachelorette party at a club, only to be picked out by Max’s men.
Knowing that something is amiss after missing a call, Roman brings Mia’s cellular silence to his brothers who stakeout her phone’s location but don’t find her, and in a curveball move, are let off the hook by Avery, but he doesn’t want them getting any more involved than they just made themselves.
From here on, Donowho splits the movie between scenes of Mia’s capture and escape attempts, antagonistic goings-on, and efforts by the brothers to find and rescue Mia. The path the story goes down is well worn but it’s well-executed, snapping to life with scenes of preparation and rarely seen consequences that would be likely in a scenario like this, though the ending is a little too nihilistic.
Sometimes Acts of Violence feels like it’s preaching to the choir with scenes that have been used since 70s vigilante efforts but Acts of Violence does deliver a competent and at times creative version of a common narrative.
The Characters: Instead of the normal one-man army routine, the script goes the more plausible route and uses three civilians and one cop to bring the events to the screen, and as a result makes for a circle of characters that, while not original, make for a compelling cast to follow.
Each one of the brothers is distinct from one another but forms a believable reprieve amongst themselves and their spouses. Deklan is the most reserved of the group since his time in the Middle East struck him in a way that no one can fix. The movie introduces him with an attempt at breaking free from PTSD in the form of poetry. It’s an interesting slant, but unfortunately, Acts of Violence doesn’t maintain this depth for its runtime. His personal life has suffered, with two divorces and limited contact with his siblings despite living in Brandon’s house, but he’s trying, and so is Hauser, who does very well here.
Brandon is the most settled of the group, with his ownership of the MacGregor family’s home, a beautiful wife, and a seemingly healthy stream of income. When Mia is taken he shows surprising but realistic reservations about Deklan’s plan to find her, since he doesn’t want to leave his wife without a husband, even if he does love Mia and wants to fight for her. Roman is the youngest and only one untrained in warfare tactics but that doesn’t stop him from tracking his fiancée down with his brothers, who promptly teach him the basics, and with his job as an EMT, use a little medical knowledge in the proceedings.
It’s the brotherly bond between these three characters that’s compelling, more so than Act of Violence’s generic villain. They aren’t deep but they’re easy to root for and the actors portraying them do a terrific job at selling the ties.
The Crime: Mezzanatto’s script treads a fine line between exploitation and dramatization, managing to retain the reality of the situation while delivering an entertaining viewing experience, though there are some rough edges.
I doubt that Cleveland is a hotbed of human traffickers, but a ring or two is conceivable and made believable thanks to the initial raid by Avery and the actions taken by Max and his men. Acts of Violence touches on the brutality and intuition needed to effectively run something like this, with Max making a mistake in entrusting his goons with finding new “product”.
Instead of handing a small dose of drugs to regulars of women’s shelters and taking them when vulnerable (yeesh), Vince and Frank take Mia, whose disappearance sets off alarm bells. The movie knows that this would be hard to take if Max kept acting uninterrupted, so it makes a smart point of noting that after Mia, he’s packing up for Vegas.
Behind the law investigation and action are also examined, but not handled with the same kind of detail that the criminal ring was. Noting that the brothers come from a military background is key here, with the approach law enforcement takes being different enough to cause problems in execution of the MacGregor’s plan. The brothers track down those involved with ease thanks to Mia’s friend who saw the goons in the club and clear a house just fine, but they get caught up with the vigilante ideology, bringing Max onto their trail. Watching the three of them follow leads and kick in doors is engaging enough, but some more depth would’ve gone a long way.
Law enforcement’s more traditional side is neglected in Acts of Violence. Central to the story it’s not, but the cop subplot with Avery trying to get his boss to make a move on Max, as well as time spent with a coroner to find out about the particular drug being pushed on the streets could’ve been trimmed down or rewritten in a way to cut it out entirely while still bringing Avery into the action. Beguilingly, even when the movie gets into action mode, the cops are still absent from the production, making the movie feel more limited than it should.
Criminal actions and makeshift justice are well portrayed here and never lurch into grindhouse territory but the opposite end is forgotten barring Avery’s limited participation.
The Technics: Production teams like Grindstone and the Fyzz Facility are no stranger to lower-budgeted affairs, handing filmmakers around 10 to 15 million dollars to produce movies not dissimilar to Acts of Violence. They allow for competence, and this movie is as modest yet handsome as their other productions.
Running only 87 minutes long, the movie has no problems with pacing, making for brisk viewing with enough emotion from the strong cast assembled, criminal investigation, and eventual action to satiate the audience. Minor cuts or rewrites for the cop subplot, or even additions to it would’ve bolstered the quality and given the pickier watchers the requisite moral examination of the brothers’ behaviour too.
It’s hard to pick apart the rest of the construction of the movie, as the producers have this kind of thing down to a science. Cinematographically the movie looks decent, it’s aurally competent, and it has occasional practical explosions and blood. Cynical as it may be, there’s competence to be had in Acts of Violence.
While its title is true, Acts of Violence may sell itself short since it has better than average story construction, crime components, and characters all while bucking the trope of a one-man army, which makes for a VOD crime/action movie a cut above the rest.