Villain (2020) Review

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Villain was directed by Philip Barantini (Boiling Point, Accused), written by Greg Hall (Kapital, Dangerous Mind of a Hooligan) and George Russo (Turnout, The Corrupted), and stars Craig Fairbrass (A Violent Man, Avengement), George Russo (Tony, The Marine 6: Close Quarters), Tomi May (High Strung, A Dark Reflection), Eloise Lovell Anderson (Bastard Executioner, Unlighted), Robert Glenister (MI-5, Hustle), and Izuka Hoyle (The Wheel of Time, Big Boys). It’s about a recently released criminal who’s out to right his own wrongs, and those of his family.

The Plot: Reverence for a particular plot can impact its execution, stick too close to the formula and it’ll be boring for most, stray too far and you’ll push away the same number of viewers. Hall and Russo find a balance in Villain. It’s not revolutionary, but it’s above par for going-straight stories.

Eddie (Fairbrass) has just been released from prison into his younger brother Sean’s (Russo) arms. Getting reacquainted with London means meeting Sean’s girlfriend Rikki (Anderson), and Sean’s problems that have accrued over the course of Eddie’s time locked away. The pub he had to hand off to his younger brother is struggling, his apartment is a mess, and Sean has debts to pay back to criminal brothers Roy (Glenister) and Johnny (May).

In this slight change of formula, having become embroiled with problems that aren’t directly his own, Villain sets up its story. Part of what makes it more investing than other ‘ardman crime stories is the way that the writers organically link the drama to the plot, distancing themselves from the idea of brief setups meant to get the story started; it’s all a connected tale, not problems in a vacuum. Eddie gets roped into paying back the men he doesn’t owe, stemming from a choice he shouldn’t have made. It can be a bit fatalistic, but the spiral is appealing.

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Outstanding woes are the story here, with Eddie calling on old friends and attempting to connect with his daughter Chloe (Hoyle). Hall and Russo line up a series of relatively standard tasks to construct their story, but it works until the end to invest the viewer.

The Characters: A cast of familiar archetypes make up the roster in Barantini’s film. Some of them are interesting, some aren’t. With the movie focused on moving forward, it doesn’t deal much with backstories – which works for the protagonists – but far less so for the antagonists.

Despite us not knowing Eddie’s full story, the setup of him being put away for 10 years, along with some grisly operations he pulls off without a hitch, effectively inform the audience that he didn’t reside on the right side of the law. Prison has clearly had an effect on him, with his introduction showing that he’s befriended his fellow inmates and guards alike while taking on a literary hobby.

Where he may have been a disconnected troublemaker before, he’s a responsible go-getter now, trying to fix everything that was left to decay before his absence. Not everything has been perfect, as he still has some severe anger problems left to deal with amongst his storm of problems, but Fairbrass makes it clear that Eddie is trying to move away from that behaviour now.

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Family members are equally well rounded, with Sean’s stagnancy coming from a drug habit, which itself seemingly came from Roy and Johnny. He’s trying to prove himself to his older brother by hanging onto what he left behind and trying to stay on a straight path, but outside forces aren’t letting that happen. Crucially, Sean connects well with Eddie, making the brotherly bond believable and Eddie’s efforts organic. Parallel to Sean is Chloe, who wants nothing to do with her father as she’s formed her own life in the time that he’s been away.

Lacking this depth are Villain’s bad guys, who aren’t expanded on beyond their influence in the local realm via drugs and intimidation. Eddie and those who he knows are strongly written, but they’re left without a proper opposite, leaving some of the behaviours of characters like Sean and Rikki questionable.

The Drama: While what’s taking place on the screen is undoubtedly focused on showing the criminal situation that the main character has been enveloped in, the crew who assembled Villain make sure not to turn their feature into an out-and-out crime movie, but a compelling, if familiar drama.

Immediately brought to the audience’s attention is the situation that Sean has been dealing with for the time that Eddie has been imprisoned. Opening Villain is the younger brother’s first and only chance to repay his debts, as the single bullet in Roy’s revolver doesn’t fire. These elevated encounters, like a kill that leads to dismemberment, are surprisingly the least interesting part of the movie, as while they are stark, they’re less human and less original than the other facets, though the movie’s arguably best moment, involving a slap in the face, does fall under this banner.

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Uphill battling is what Villain succeeds at the most, Eddie doesn’t quite come out of the frying pan so to speak, as he’d made peace with his surroundings, but he’s certainly thrown into the fire. No time is given for the man to reintegrate with his surroundings and he’s forced to start working on fixing up the bar, dealing with his brother’s drug addiction, and paying the mob. It’s an overwhelming scenario by design, and Barantini has the character make moves like selling personal possessions, calling in favours, and taking detours to dig himself out of a hole he didn’t make.

Between all of the menace lies his estranged daughter, who now has a kid of her own. What makes her existence within the movie impactful is Eddie’s treatment of her now that he’s back. Putting off talking to Chloe doesn’t last long for Eddie, as with several parties breathing down his neck, he knows he can’t wait to make amends. Again, he’s pulled further into a regrettable situation as Chloe has an abusive wannabe tough guy as the father to her child. Villain makes note of the cyclical nature of this thread and has Eddie seek to end it via calm discourse, in obvious contrast to everything else he’s dealing with at the moment.

Hall and Russo don’t dream up a new scenario, but they sell it via quality writing for most of the assignments they dump on top of Eddie’s head, and wonderful acting from everyone involved.

The Technics: Making his directorial debut, Barantini doesn’t quite go above and beyond with the technical details of Villain, but he does manage to craft a competent, confident first feature that lacks any amateur mistakes.

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Stylistically, the movie could’ve done with some flair, not to an extreme degree, but a slight spin on the events to set the contents of its story apart. One moment sticks out that shows even greater promise, one where Eddie grabs a hammer to beat on a couple of goons with a high tab. Keeping in the character’s headspace, Barantini doesn’t show much of it, instead cutting away to show the revulsion the man now feels for that kind of action. More of that would’ve gone a long way.

Tone is handled quite well here, making swift transitions from threats of violence, family ties, and jokey, more reminiscent scenes all blend nicely without jarring the audience. Pacing comes into play here, spacing out moments of each kind to further the worldly atmosphere at hand. Pushing things too close together might’ve shot Villain in the foot.

Villain isn’t original in the slightest, taking several scenarios from other dramas to spin a redemption tale without much flair, but it’s well-executed and characterized, especially by Fairbrass – who gives a performance so perfect that the movie may not have worked without him.

Villain is currently available on Netflix and other Digital platforms.

Where to watch Villain
Our Score

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