Not too long since the release of Triple Threat, it now comes down to a matter of days as fans of action movie favorite, Scott Adkins await the release of his newest Jesse V. Johnson follow-up, Avengement. Far from anything pedestrian, the film is consistent with the continued pattern of work from Johnson whose directing career has proliferated favorably in the last few years with Adkins in his stewardship.
Avengement is also something special, in a sense, kind of indicative of what Johnson has been trying to crank out in terms of what stories and roles could best flesh out more of Adkins as an actor past the fan-favored Boyka persona that largely crowns his career these days. Much ado was the fallout chatter from early test screenings of Avengement a few months back; It was talk that spotlit this latest outing from Johnson as the quintessential Adkins showcase for A-level status.
The role Adkins plays in Avengement, Cain Burgess, a down-on-his-luck boxer who skips his prison detail while out on furlough to settle an old score, is definitely more variant of a role this time around, and you can visually tell compared to other roles he’s played prior. Indeed, you get the usual all-you-can-eat buffet of fisticuffs, blood-coated shit-eating faceplants and boots-to-asses amid the no-holds-barred cavalcade of blunt-force gangbuster fight scenery you could ever want – it’s all a glorious treat for the Boyka-loving R-rated action crowd and I don’t mind sharing space in it, although the presence of drama to pair it all off is something I always aspire for when I watch these movies. It’s what adds to the compelling nature of any stylish thriller you might think of, and thankfully, Avengement meets halfway.
Penned by Johnson and fellow The Debt Collector and Accident Man co-writer Stu Small, Adkins’ Burgess is freshley introduced in cuffs, donned in gray prison sweat gear and a chilling display of facial scars – each with a story to tell. Not one to be short of words, Burgess proceeds to tell those stories in full, illustrative detail, from the grim and grimey to the down, dirty and downright deadly, to a captive group of unspecting gangsters holed up at his former pub, the Horse & Jockey.
Not long after putting plucky, young, eager up-and-coming drug pusher, Tune (Thomas Turgoose), in his place, Burgess briefly curtails Tune’s storytime pub pitch to pull out his handy double barrell, firing a single shot and signaling the commencement of the siege. The shot draws the attention of Hyde (Nick Moran of Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels) who rushes from his hidden office to the bar downstairs and slowly comes to recognizing Burgess upon seeing him.
The story carries on between extensive, balanced flashbacks that elucidate the intricate, tumultuous events in pulp form, depicting our ill-gotten protagonist’s regressive jailhouse demise. After failing to do a job in exchange for a business loan from his loanshark brother, Lincoln (Craig Fairbass) who was initially insistent on not breaking a specific rule, Burgess is forced to submit to, as he so narrates “…the filthiest, most violent, godforsaken prison in England.”.
Following several vicious attacks and despite calls for his brother’s help and pleas for a transfer, Burgess is forced to deal with the constant deluge of inmates trying to kill him, topped by years added to his sentence despite evidence of self-defense. What ensues for Burgess is non-stop fight-or-flight mode, fighting daily for survival without a moment’s rest or reprieve save for visits from his concerned, resilient mother (Jane Thorne), and time well spent in his isolated cell-turned-requisite makeshift gym, foundating his new persona to which at one point he cites in pensive, grisled gravitas as, “…a hard, rusty nail…”.
The only thing keeping him going at this point is the unconditional love and support of his mother, along with any preconceived sibling connection and loyalty he ever thought there was between him and Lincoln. More to the point, while Burgess at least had an iota of a clue about his brother’s occupation and the obviousness of its seedy establishment, he had always defended his brother – a fact which then bears even more weight as newly-sparked revelations further begin to shape his perspective on things.
Avengement is the kind of film that welcomes any and all to enjoy a palpable, pulsating and contained character drama with all the trimmings. Adkins delivers a mesmerizing portrayal of an unbroken stoic, beaten and brutalized and cut to the bone, and driven feral to the point of murder, and whilst not too unhinged to know right from wrong. His performance easily bodes well for the film’s slightly more cerebral, psychological narrative – the Cain Burgess we know is never the pre-inmate boxer that preambles the story, but a talented fighter sharpened and hard-edged by unforgiving life and equally unrelenting circumstances.
Rise Of The Footsoldier film series star Craig Fairbass comprises about close to half of the film’s screentime as Cain’s elder sib, Lincoln, lending an outstanding headline performance opposite Adkins along with actors Moran, Turgoose. Actress Kirsten Wareing finds her footing as, Bez, the Horse & Jockey’s thick-skinned bartender and considerable pot-stirrer by the second half of the film.
The Debt Collector co-lead Louis Mandylor rejoins his colleagues for the role of a dogmatic detecive bent on making Cain see the errs of his ways. The remaining bulk of the film’s cast further presents a few more friendly faces in the martial arts and film mix including the likes of Joe Egan, Greg Burridge, Beau Fowler, Phillip Ray Tommy, Redcon1 star Mark Strange, and even career stuntman and coordinator Luke LaFontaine who also serves in assisting key fight coordinator, Dan Styles (Accident Man).
Johnson’s penchant for taking creative liberties with violence and cranking it up past the knob limit continues with Avengement for a few select moments. Not to be outdone by perfunctory shortcomings and expectations of other pot-boiler B-flicks, Johnson certainly knows how to keep things interesting when it comes to the red stuff, especially as peculiar engine for character development.
While I did elucidate Accident Man in my review as “The Quintessential Scott Adkins Action Film”, I can unquestionably attest to Cain Burgess in Avengement as Adkins’ truly best role by far. It’s a huge credit to Johnson who’s been pushing the needle forward for nearly thirty years in cinema with a directing that hasn’t always brought him the kind of praise he seems to be getting nowadays.
Like with all talents, filmmaking is something that takes time to nuture and grow, and Johnson now winning crowds over with hits like The Beautiful Ones, Savage Dog, Accident Man, The Debt Collector and Triple Threat, you can believe at day’s end that Avengement is 90-minutes of your time well-served.