With shades of Taxi Driver and (if not thematically-matched) still a little hint of First Blood, The Veteran stars Toby Kebbell as Robert Miller, a former soldier back in London after a stint in Afghanistan and suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. It doesn’t help that he’s living in a violent housing estate either, proceeded over by drug lord Tyrone (Ashley Bashy Thomas) who is interested in Miller working as an enforcer for him. Lost on civvies street, and without a clue as to what he wants to do with his life, he hooks up with an old friend from the forces and agrees to do some undercover surveillance for a couple of shady government operatives (Tony Curran and Brian Cox). He soon finds (surprise, surprise) that all is not what it seems, and he’s drawn back into having to adapt to his military mindset once more.

The Veteran is a surprisingly watchable thriller which succeeds despite its obviously low-budget limitations. It also showcases some really solid work from Kebbell, who is completely at ease with carrying the film. The actor first showed considerable promise as Paddy Considine’s slow-minded younger brother in 2004’s Dead Man’s Shoe’s, and like his older sibling in that film, Kebbell is similarly commanding in his portrayal here of someone who is on the edge emotionally, while still trying to keep a lid on his exterior.

There’s some good work from the supporting cast too. Thomas gives a very credible and menacing performance without ever resorting to clichéd gangster theatrics and Curran is also very good, as is Cox who, in little more than an extended cameo, still makes a strong impressive in a limited screen time.

The sparse, gritty shooting style lends the film some gravitas and the two converging plot strands work well before meshing together at the end, where an exciting, if credibility-stretching, shoot-out resembles a mini-Heat meets inner-city London.

Assisted by a dark and ominous electronic score, director Matthew Hope successfully injects a feeling of unease throughout, and like the aforementioned gun battle, is equally adept at staging large(ish) scale action sequences alongside the more sobering, reflective character moments. A riverside struggle and battle to the death between Kebbell and an assailant is suitably gripping and visceral, bringing to mind the grimy milieu of the likes of Get Carter. It’s also nice to see a UK genre piece with a little political edge.

It’s a shame the conspiracy reveal towards the end tips the film into the realm of fantasy, undoing some of the solid work which has come beforehand and jarring with the social and political points. The ending too, while uncompromising and unflinching in its bleakness, feels a little abrupt and is missing a satisfying coda.

That being said, The Veteran still has a lot going for it, and will undoubtedly find a loving home on DVD. While it will be almost certainly be marketed in lad’s mags as a “violent” and “explosive” shoot-em’ up, there is clearly more going on within the film than that, and as a sophomore effort, it definitely marks Hope as a talent to watch.