I’ve always been a sucker for a good Brit-crime drama. Guy Ritchie is one of my favorite filmmakers without question and if your movie stars Vinnie Jones? I’m in. That’s all to say that Villain was a no-brainer for me to watch. Honestly, if you take a look at Eddie Franks (perfectly played by Craig Fairbrass) at the right angle he looks a lot like Vinnie Jones. I think it’s the gentlemanly factor that brings me in to these movies. The honor among thieves you see in British crime films that you just know is in no way reflective of how it really is on the streets of the rainy city. When it comes to crime films, there’s only so many stories you can tell. Villain chooses the trope of being pulled back into a life you desperately wanted to escape and while the term “trope” usually carries a negative connotation the film uses the bones of the trope and spins it into it’s own unique thing. Eddie Franks is a once upon a time tough guy who, after being released from a stint in prison, needs to resort to his old, violent, ways to save both his drug-addled brother and the family business, a pub called The Green Man, from a viscous mob boss called Roy Garrett (Robert Glennister).
So reading that brief synopsis this sounds just like any other movie wherein the good guy has to be bad one more time. The thing is Villain, by way of Fairbrass’s performance, manages to pull this off in a way that, while not entirely new, feels deeper then I was expecting. While Garrett and his right hand Johnny are the film’s main antagonists the real battle you see is between old Eddie and new Eddie. You can tell that Eddie had reasons for leaving his old life but when forced back into that world you can see that new Eddie is concerned about how easily the old Eddie is taken back over. That internal struggle and fight against who we want to be and who we naturally are is what takes this otherwise standard action flick into a level or two above. There’s a dirty feeling to the whole thing, rather then glorifying this return to form the grim and gritty execution of Eddie’s actions make you realize that Yes, he is better off staying away but how much does he want to fight? The performances hammer it home but the script is where the gold is but fair warning to any folks not used to hearing a cockney accent, you may want to pop those subtitles on. It’s not quiet to the level of Brad Pitt in Snatch but there’s a few sections where it gets close in terms of understanding.
While not a classic in the making, Villain delivers on what it promises and then some. Far from a throw-away action flick Philip Barantini directs the film with a deft hand and solid eye for what creates tension and conflict. While Craig Fairbrass’s reserved tough guy Eddie is the highlight you’re hard-pressed to find an actor not delivering on what their character was given. Add to this the grimy yet beautiful back-drop of London’s East End and you have a hell of a good way to spend 1 hour and 37 minutes.