The Enforcer (2022) Review
The Enforcer was directed by Richard Hughes, written by W. Peter Iliff (Prayer of the Rollerboys, Iron Will), and stars Antonio Banderas (The 33, Code Name Banshee), Mojean Aria (See, Hara Kiri), Zolee Griggs (Wu-Tang: An American Saga, Bit), Alexis Ren (Deported), and Kate Bosworth (The Immaculate Room, Heist). It follows an underground enforcer as he turns his life’s trajectory around to save a young girl from his own boss.
The Plot: Sometimes you just know when a movie is going to be exactly what it implies from its poster, tagline, and title. The Enforcer is one of those movies – one that draws from the piles of redemption-focused, hitman-oriented features and makes no impression of its own.
Bareknuckle boxer Stray (Aria) has made an impression in the fight club scene – so much so that gangster Estelle (Bosworth) wants him on her side for low-level smash-and-grab jobs. In a bid to win over the young man, she pairs him with debt collector Cuda (Banderas) to see if he has the drive and the interest in kicking doors down for cash. What the movie has to its advantage is a skill in switching from character to character, as soon after Stray’s first night, The Enforcer glides to Cuda, whose personal problems receive some kind of remedy when he meets Billie (Griggs).
After switching to a subplot involving Stray and Lexus (Ren), who he met at Estelle’s establishment which is more superfluous than enlightening, Hughes returns to Cuda as he finds that Billie has gone missing, obviously at the hands of his own boss. Bowing to market demands, The Enforcer brings Cuda and Stray back together to hunt for Billie, who’s buried somewhere beneath the surface of Miami along with the requisite drug pushers, sex traffickers and street thugs. As a story, Iliff’s screenplay doesn’t offer much to write home about; it gets the job done without daring to rise above the proverbial bar.
The Characters: Nothing about the characters in The Enforcer is special, but Iliff understands how to do a basic redemption arc better than most. Distractive side characters weaken the journey, but there’s a centrical force in the midst of all the tropes.
Cuda has only recently been let out from behind bars, and although he’s quick to get back to brutal work, his attitude has soured towards it. It’s his daughter’s upcoming 16th birthday that has him ruminating on the past, but neither she nor his ex-wife wants anything to do with his attempts to fix what’s broken. Substituting his daughter is Billie, who doesn’t make much of an impression, and as such, the movie has to rely on Banderas to convey the emotion that the script couldn’t. He’s game and his electrifying acting does numbers for Hughes’s outing.
Stray is another helping of formulaic characterization; though not much backstory is given, we can see through his fighting skills, familiarity with the environment, and ability to fix a car that he’s been raised by the streets. While he’s proud of what he can do, he doesn’t like doing it, desiring a life that doesn’t require taking hits as often as he does to get by. Stray’s dynamics are mixed though; when conversing with Cuda about life’s path and Estelle’s business model, there’s an interesting perspective shift – but when he’s with Lexus – another supporting character with little attention paid, the movie suffers.
Using familiar concepts works out alright for Iliff, who’s able to craft some decent main characters, but can’t manage to fit the side characters in. Narrowing down the already small cast could’ve elevated the final product, but “good enough” will have to do.
The Crime: For as pedestrian as the script is, The Enforcer is still an acceptable visualization of criminality. While just about every sequence has been done better before, brief moments involving Cuda’s seasoned persona stick out as better than average, even if the rest doesn’t.
Introductions aren’t the strong suit of the picture, which has all of the generic hallmarks of the genre; from the second lead’s built-in experience with illegal combat, to Estelle’s base of operations in the back of a nightclub, to Stray’s first job tossing him in the deep end and requiring to sink or swim. All told, the first act doesn’t last long in the memory banks before being supplanted by more of the same that comes down the pipeline.
Hughes allows the characters to work their way through the motions and establish the world, but it’s once the movie digs a little deeper beneath the surface level that it finds something more than mere watchability. Cuda, despite being “in the game” for a long time, has much to learn upon his release from prison. Much of this new digital crime has been learned by others and has been sampled by Estelle, but the dealings don’t sit well with the hardened man and his protege, who are forced to sit down and talk with a frontrunner in the cyber-sex trafficking industry. These sequences tread the line between exploitation and dramatization effectively enough to sit comfortably within the film.
Once the duo makes their decision about sticking around, The Enforcer does switch into thriller mode – which is fine since a lot of the gangster goings-on were only barely landing – but the final act could’ve been rewritten in a way that prioritizes the story’s established characters instead of involving new ones that have even less development than the others. If nothing else, the crime is competent and quick, but a lack of details doesn’t help the cause.
The Technics: While this may be his first feature, director Richard Hughes has been making slick pieces for a long time with commercials for huge brands that have racked up millions of dollars due to his work. That translates to his film debut, which shows promise.
Minor insert shots of the street-level interactions are included to make sure that the nights contrast with the days, which are more sedate in their amounts of violence. A textured world is created with these little bits, shot superbly by cinematographer Callan Green (Burke & Wills, Man vs. Bee) and smoothed out with the assistance of a talented crew. The fact that they made Thessaloniki, Greece an effective stand-in for Miami is a testament to their abilities.
Not everything will go well in a first outing, and there are issues with the editing. Though Damian F. Gomez (Jolt, Aquaman) and Mattias Morheden (The Girl Who Played with Fire, False Trail) do a very good job of keeping the movie from overextending itself, some things are out of their control; continuity errors and timeline blurriness pop up now and again but aren’t hugely detrimental. Casting is another problem though, as aside from Banderas’s impressive work, no one sticks out for the right reasons (rapper 2 Chainz does not make an intimidating side character). A middling script is likely to blame as it includes plenty of cliched locations, dialogue, and subpar rap tracks which litter the runtime.
You’ve seen this all before. The Enforcer brings out greatness in Banderas but mediocrity from most others involved. Its averageness can’t be denied, but a new talent in Hughes shines through – so maybe this will be looked back on later – but not for now.