In VILLAIN, the first feature film by Philip Barantini, Eddie (Craig Fairbrass) is trying to put his life back together after a long stint in prison. Although what landed him in trouble with the law is never discussed, it’s clear that Eddie was a career criminal, someone not to be trifled with. But, after life on the inside, he’s ready to turn over a new leaf.

But change doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and soon Eddie discovers that staying on the right side of the law may be more difficult than he anticipated. The biggest obstacle to his new life is Eddie’s younger brother, Johnny (Tomi May), who has gotten into trouble with the mob after a large number of drugs goes missing on Johnny’s watch.

The only way to appease mob boss Roy (Robert Glenister) is to hand over $80,000 or give up the bar the two brothers have worked so hard to open.

While Eddie tries desperately to find a legal way to resolve things, it becomes clear that deeds done in the dark can’t be repaid in the light.

Craig Fairbrass as Eddie in the crime/thriller, VILLAIN, a Saban Films release | Photo courtesy of Saban Films

VILLAIN is a classic gangster film played with the restraint of a drama. While all of the quintessential aspects of a crime film are present, the emphasis here is on the relationships between the characters and how one’s actions affect those around them.

There’s a lot to like in this film. The script, written by Greg Hall and George Russo, is tight, realistic, and poetic – the climactic bar scene includes one of the better monologues I’ve heard in awhile. But the places where this film succeeds are all about the acting. Each performance is as strong as the next, with actors who truly know how to live truthfully and lean in to the meaty scenes they’ve been given. Fairbrass and actress Izuka Hoyle give standout performances in a scene where their characters grapple with their complicated past.

But VILLAIN suffers a bit from the modern trend of choosing to have nearly every scene played as subtly as possible. Nearly the entire film is spoken at the softest volume. Film is a quiet medium, and overacting is rarely the right direction; however when everything is played that softly the emotional stakes don’t transfer to the viewer, and that makes it very hard to invest in the journey.

VILLAIN is a strong feature debut and a good watch for fans of genre mashups, crime stories, and family drama. I’m looking forward to what Barantini tackles next. VILLAIN arrives On Demand and Digital on May 22, 2020.

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