Craig Fairbrass headlines the impressive British action movie, Villain – and here’s our review.

For a film that stars Craig Fairbrass, a man with an enviable CV of action cinema credits, you might expect Villain to be nothing more than a hodgepodge of clichés wrapped around various violent set pieces. However, director Barantini and writers Greg Hall and George Russo are far more interested in exploring the journey of the central character. Eddie Franks, fresh out of prison and in need of cash, is tasked with saving his brother from spiralling debt and addictions, all whilst avoiding the attentions of insalubrious creditor Roy Garrett, played with evil relish by Robert Glenister. Running parallel to this are Eddie’s attempts at connecting with his estranged daughter (Izuka Hoyle).

The opening scene gives an indication that Villain might just be a cut above other films of this ilk, with some artfully constructed shots that combined with the music, a minimalist, droning score by Aaron May and David Ridley, set up a real air of foreboding. This is reinforced by the casting of Glenister, an actor who can exude more menace with a look than a thousand words ever could. This stands him in good stead for a role like this, especially in his scenes with Fairbrass, where it is fair to say it occasionally devolves into a contest of who can act with the most machismo onscreen. The difference here, though, is that Fairbrass gives an unusually restrained performance. It’s rare to see him play a character who is rather softly spoken and genuinely heartfelt, which gives the film an emotional core that keeps you invested and rooting for his redemption.

Not everything is free from cliché, though. The roles of the women in the story are largely stereotypical, with one particularly needless scene fetishizing a character that is given little to do besides satisfy the male gaze. Hoyle fairs better, given more meaty material to work with as she and Fairbrass try to repair their relationship, and it’s a performance that transcends her lack of a character arc. One thing Russo and Hall write very well is the interpersonal relationships. One scene in which Fairbrass visits an old friend and his family for dinner is wonderfully naturalistic and full of human warmth, which contrasts nicely with the violence surrounding it. The story is a surprisingly slow burn, but when the fight scenes hit, they hit very, very hard. But I never got the sense they were there for the sake of it, every brawl moved the plot along.

It’s clear that everybody involved in Villain was determined to make a film that was about more than just the violence that fills its story. In doing so, they’ve created a film that delves just that little bit deeper into what could have been a stereotypical character, and Fairbrass, Hall and Russo have crafted somebody who you can genuinely root for.

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