Director: Jesse V. Johnson
Screenplay: Jesse V. Johnson, Stu Small
Starring: Scott Adkins, Craig Fairbrass, Thomas Turgoose, Nick Moran, Kierston Wareing, Jane Thorne
Running Time: 88 min
BBFC Certificate: 18
Scott Adkins has been making quite a name for himself in the straight-to-DVD (or maybe straight-to-streaming these days) action movie market over the past 20 years. His breakout role in Undisputed II: Last Man Standing helped land him numerous lead actor gigs in low budget fight-heavy films as well as small roles in some big mainstream movies such as The Bourne Ultimatum and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Many of his better known and well-loved films have been helmed by the Undisputed II director Isaac Florentine and the pair have made numerous films together. However, more recently Adkins has been working closely with Jesse V. Johnson on a number of films, with the actor even producing some of their collaborations, and this partnership has resulted in some decent vehicles for the under-the-radar star. I thoroughly enjoyed Accident Man last year which they made together, so I was keen to check out their latest work, Avengement, when it was offered me to review.
Avengement sees Adkins play Cain Burgess, a prisoner who escapes whilst out under guard to see his dying mother in hospital. He soon ends up at the club his gangster brother Lincoln (Craig Fairbrass) frequents, taking his cronies hostage whilst he waits for their boss to show up. During this time, Cain tells us his story and how he turned from an upstanding citizen asking for a loan from his brother into a hardened, soulless killer with revenge driving his every action.
It’s a simple story, but Johnson and his co-writer Stu Small do their best to keep it interesting. Employing a regular flashback technique but jumbling the chronology at times, the mystery of key details are held back to maintain intrigue and the insertion of scenes featuring a pre-prison Cain throughout the film prevent the character from being entirely unsympathetic. I was worried this would be the case at first, as he’s a mean, unlikeable b*st*rd in the ‘present day’ sections, but the interspersed early flashbacks and scenes between Cain and his mother keep him on side. Johnson may not be directing prestige pictures or subtle character dramas but he’s clearly aware that an audience must care about their hero and their motivations.
Also aiding the sympathy of the character is Adkins. Although his action credentials have never been in doubt, his dramatic performances aren’t always mind-blowing. However, this offers him a chance to play a fairly layered character and he pulls it off very effectively. Getting the chance to be a nasty piece of work in the present day sections and a decent family man elsewhere, it’s a great showcase for the actor and shows Adkins is capable of more than just throwing kicks and punches. Hopefully Hollywood is taking notice, though I think I’d still prefer to see him in straight-up action indies like this, to be honest.
The rest of the cast do a fairly decent job with their stereotypical gangster roles. Fairbrass is intimidating as usual and Nick Moran plays another one of his sarcastic, talk-heavy slimy South-London characters with the usual aplomb. It was also nice to see a grown-up Thomas Turgoose as one of Lincoln’s less tough goons. I’ve not seen him on screen since Shane Meadows’ This is England and Somers Town, though I’m aware he’s been pretty busy these past ten years. He was fun here, so I hope to see more of his work in the future.
I’m spending way too much time talking about the film’s writing and performances though. This is a Scott Adkins film after all, so I’m sure you’re all more interested in the action. Avengement displays less of Adkins’ showier martial arts skills, instead sticking to a brutal bare-knuckle boxing style of violence. This fits the story perfectly and is well choreographed by Dan Styles (who also worked on Accident Man). The fights are tough, hard-hitting and bloody throughout. Thankfully the blood doesn’t have that terrible CGI look that a lot of low budget action movies share these days, so there’s a strong visceral quality to it. There’s an impressive gore effect at one point too that will have you either laughing at its over-the-top and in-your-face nature or reaching for the sick bucket if you’re a bit more sensitive.
With an effectively constructed, if fairly simple, crime/revenge plot and plenty of hard-edged violence, Avengement fuses the British gangster and action movie genres very well. It’s lean, mean entertainment that might be a bit too nasty for some, but those with a taste for gritty, fight-heavy independent action movies will have plenty to enjoy.
Avengement is out now on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital in the UK, released by Dazzler Media. I saw the Blu-Ray version and it looked and sounded first rate. Unfortunately, there are no special features included on the disc, which is a real shame as I’d have loved to have heard from Johnson and Adkins about the making of the film.