A Violent Man, 2022.
Directed by Ross McCall.
Starring Craig Fairbrass, Jason Flemyng, Stephen Odubola, Ross McCall, Zoë Tapper, Ulrich Thomsen, Rosie Sheehy.
A violent prisoner with a dangerous reputation takes his new cell mate under his wing, all the while trying to face his own demons and the daughter he has never met.
No doubt the prospect of a prison movie starring Craig Fairbrass conjures up a particular type of movie in your mind – one where man-mountain Fairbrass swears a lot, beats people to a pulp and talks in crime movie cliches whilst calling everyone a ‘slag’ as various familiar faces from Essex Boys-type movies pop up for a proper striping – and, to a point, you wouldn’t be far off with that summation.
However, A Violent Man – the directorial debut of actor Ross McCall (Green Street) – is a lot more than that; this is Craig Fairbrass taking his usual ‘East End hardman’ screen persona and reflecting on why people like the ones the actor normally portrays are the way they are and how they deal with their life in prison.
In this case, Fairbrass plays Steve Mackelson, a violent offender serving a life sentence for the murder of his ex-wife and her lover. Having accepted that he will never get out of prison Steve knows the score on how to survive inside and has built a reputation that suggests he is a man not to be messed with, but one day a new cell mate arrives in the shape of Marcus (Stephen Odubola), a young black gang member who has been tagged as a grass by other gang members and so is subject to regular visits from people not wanting to be civil towards him.
Marcus also has a line of business selling drugs to other prisoners that the established prison dealer is not too happy with, so Steve takes Marcus under his wing and tries to teach him how to handle himself against the other cons. At the same time, Steve has had contact from his estranged daughter whom he has never seen and is having to dig deep within himself to find the courage to face her having murdered her mother, as she wants to meet her father to see where she came from.
Less of a plot-driven drama and more of a character piece, A Violent Man is an impressive showcase for Craig Fairbrass, an actor of limited range but whose presence always fills any movie he is in. The whole movie takes place in a couple of rooms and being a prison, the cells are quite small so the 6’ 3” actor does take up a lot of space but even in the few scenes he isn’t in his presence is felt, mainly thanks to the vulnerability of Marcus and his nervous portrayal by Stephen Odubola.
In one scene where Marcus is being intimidated by another gang member in his cell you know he is praying that Steve will walk in and sort it out, a feeling that is shared by the viewer. He doesn’t, and Marcus must sort out his own problems but the way he handles it shows he has been learning and it is difficult not to hear Steve’s authoritative voice in your head, even though Fairbrass has not been onscreen the entire scene.
Although there are plenty of nasty set pieces where Fairbrass gets to swing his fists and do what he spent the whole of the Rise of the Footsoldier franchise doing, where he really shines is in the scenes where he is talking with prison social worker Claire Keats (Zoë Tapper) to arrange a visit from his daughter. This is where you get to see Steve Mackelson play the tough guy, see it doesn’t have any effect on Claire and then start expressing his fears about meeting his daughter Rebecca (Rosie Sheehy). When he does finally meet her the tension and emotion from both actors playing off each other through a glass screen is as real and raw as if this were a real family reunion.
Featuring supporting appearances from Jason Flemyng (Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels), writer/director Ross McCall and Ulrich Thomsen (The Thing) as the prison warden, A Violent Man is an absorbing and honest portrayal of the type of character we have seen Craig Fairbrass play before but not this introspective, not with this intensity and certainly not with this much depth.
At 105 minutes it is a little too long for a movie that essentially doesn’t have much of a plot, and once Steve and Rebecca have their meeting there isn’t really anywhere else for it to go, but if you are a fan of the type of brutal Cockney gangster movies that Craig Fairbrass, Ross McCall and Jason Flemyng usually star in then A Violent Man makes an imposing and thought-provoking companion piece.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★