- James Mottram
- 24 February 2020
Craig Fairbrass fronts another grimy crime flick that's, at best, something of a guilty pleasure
Philip Barantini's grimy crime drama Villain begins with two men menacing the weasel-like Sean Franks (George Russo), who's minus his clothes on a freezing night in the middle of nowhere. It's a powerful scene, albeit one that leaves a nasty taste. Portraying a world of felons, strippers, drug-addicts and thugs, Villain is full of characters whose moral compasses are way off. But, as with its opening moments, there's a grim fascination that just about keeps you watching.
With its unimaginatively generic title – perhaps intentionally evoking the 1971 Richard Burton crime flick – Barantini's film could easily be one of those straight-to-streaming stinkers that clog up platforms these days. The casting of the muscular ex EastEnders actor Craig Fairbrass, now a regular in low-rent fare like Rise of the Footsoldier, The Hooligan Factory and St George's Day, only adds to this impression.
While Fairbrass has played the lug once too often, he's an actor of largely untapped potential (just wait for his turn in the-as-yet-unreleased Muscle). Here, he stars as Sean's older brother Eddie, back out of prison after a ten-year stretch and desperate to make amends with his estranged daughter Chloe (Izuka Hoyle). Returning to the family-owned pub, which his sibling has barely been able to keep afloat, he soon discovers that Sean is badly indebted to the gangsters from the opening scene.
Co-written by Russo and Greg Hall, it's a story that explores loyalty and the ties that bind, but the muddled, twisty plot is the film's weakest element, too often veering towards cliché and profanities. Yet Barantini, making his feature debut, does at least have a fundamental grip on character, tension and style. Aided by simmering work from Fairbrass, for all its flaws, Villain has 'post-pub guilty pleasure' written all over it.
Limited release from Fri 28 Feb.