Run down pub? Check. Geezer who’s got himself in too deep? Check. Grizzled British actor formerly of Eastenders? Check. Crime lord who underestimates the anti-hero? Double check.

Despite ticking every box in the London gangster movie checklist, there’s a lot to like about director Philip Barantini‘s debut feature.

Barantini, formerly a bit-part actor with an enviable CV (Chernobyl, Band of Brothers, Sky One’s Dream Team) has learned enough on his travels to craft his own stylish feature, and it’s to his and co-writer/ star George Russo’s credit that Villain has more class than we have any right to expect.

Eddie (Craig Fairbrass, obvs) is a career criminal who’s just finished a 10 year stretch at HM’s pleasure. His sleazy little brother, Sean (Russo) has been looking after their pub while he’s inside, although dabbling in the coke dealing business was not a wise move – he’s now in deep Barney with Roy Garrett (Robert Glenister), the top dog in town.

Eddie wants to keep it straight, sort out the pub and reconnect with his old family. But like any movie gangster, the underworld won’t let him walk away. His best efforts to square the debt don’t go down too well with Roy, so Eddie find his back up against the wall. The only question is, what’s he gonna do about it?

This isn’t a reinvention of the gangster flick, nor is it particularly original. Fortunately, Barantini and co. seem to know that, and have elected to make a genre piece that opts for understatement rather than Guy Ritchie flair.

Slick editing keeps the pace up, even when Fairbrass’s Eddie is navel gazing (it’s arguably the actor’s best performance this side of Cliffhanger), while the ethereal, atmospheric score from debutant composers Aaron May and David Ripley sets an uneasy tone.

And yes, the cast of mostly unknowns with extensive experience on The Bill and Casualty opt for a few too many ‘yeah?’ sign offs at the end of excahnges, yet they’re largely on good form. It’s a decent script delivered with conviction.

Sadly, the final act doesn’t quite match the quality of the opening two thirds, as if a denouement was too much hassle to deal with. Instead, Eddie ticks off a few more cliche boxes before the credits roll.

It’s a real shame, for what comes before is a hugely credible effort from a bunch of first-time filmmakers.

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