He’s been commendably honest about taking on under-par projects to pay his mortgage and turkeys like Pimp and Run For Your Wife have made Danny Dyer’s Pinter-endorsed heyday seem a distant Mockney memory. Unfortunately for Dyer and writer/director Stephen Reynolds, their collaboration on revenge thriller Vendetta will likely be judged by the star’s several cinematic sins. Which is a shame, because this Dagenham Death Wish – or Romford Rambo, if you like – isn’t just a slick and confidently made pot-boiler, it’s also a film featuring Dyer’s best performance since The Football Factory. Maybe even his best ever.
Styled as ‘judge, jury, executioner’ by the film’s surprisingly restrained marketing campaign, our hero Jimmy Vickers (Dyer) is on his way back from Afghanistan, hoping for a warm family welcome to wash away the memories of his Geneva Convention-flouting work for the Special Forces. But Jimmy’s homecoming ends before it has a chance to start. His parents are tortured and murdered by a gang seeking vengeance after Jimmy’s cab driver father accidentally killed one of their number while stopping a carjacking. Before you can say ‘roaring rampage of revenge’, Jimmy’s embraced his inner Charles Bronson to deal out bloody retribution.
It’s a film concerned with disproportionate response, whether the gang’s murderous reaction to Mr. Vickers’ good citizenship or Jimmy’s grief-inspired, oddly inventive vigilantism. You understand, if not condoning, Jimmy’s quest for revenge but without a Special Forces background, most viewers would struggle to conceive of using liquid Saran or asphyxiation by cement as methods of killing. The curiosities of the bloodshed are aided by Reynolds’ stripped-back sound design, simple lighting and Refn-esque dread on the soundtrack, giving this fairly familiar vengeance tale a hint of originality.
The third act lurches into right-wing, Nick Love territory – with one character opining ‘this country’s changed, the riots were just the start of it. We’ve got a generation of offenders’ – leaving a nasty taste in the mouth. The police are framed as entirely useless, Britain’s streets a crime-ridden nightmare and you fear the film’s revelling in Jimmy’s ‘punishment’ of the gang, rather than contextualising any of the preceding crimes. There’s also some extremely substandard acting from many of the supporting players (though Alistair Petrie’s great value as a self-serving cop) and a fetishising of weaponry that’s at odds with the largely homemade feel of Jimmy’s crusade. But with propulsive storytelling from Reynolds and a reined-in, powerful Dyer in the form of his life, Vendetta’s a simplistic yet gripping movie, even if it may not necessarily resurrect Dyer’s career (EastEnders may just prove to be a smart move).
What Vendetta does do, is tell a linear story effectively, demonstrating Dyer’s oft-hidden presence and revealing a potentially impressive voice in Reynolds (who evidently would rather make Drive than Green Street). Director of photography Haider Zaifar gives the film a Hollywood sheen that belies its minuscule budget and this seedy, as this manipulative but solid thriller could herald a new dawn for Dyer.