Prison dramas when they come along fit into a couple of styles they are either the lighter uplifting/comedy type (Longest Yard, Stir Crazy, Shawshank Redemption, Lock Up) or they are a bit grittier (Scum, Bronson, American History X, Midnight Express), A Violent Man definitely fits into the latter. A film that pulls no punches and produces a performance from Craig Fairbrass that is nothing short of astounding.
Steve Mackleson (Fairbrass) is a violent and dangerous prisoner, incarcerated for double murder in a maximum security prison, and wracked with inner turmoil about his past sins and unquenchable need for carnage. When Marcus (Odubola) becomes his new cell mate, and a daughter he has never met finally requests a chance to meet her estranged father, Steve must reconsider his nihilistic outlook and brutal outbursts. When Marcus becomes the victim of a revenge attack, Steve steps in to save him and they both become marked men, their sentences set to be cut short, the hard way.
A Violent Man is not a prison drama about a wronged man trying to rise above the system or someone trying to seek redemption. Fairbrass Steve Mackleson is behind bars because he is unrepentant, unforgiving and primal, in that there is no doubt. This sets up a tour de force of brutal unrelenting self loathing that boils over whenever challenged by the other inmates, guards and the system itself. Primarily set in just Macklesons cell, A Violent Man puts you right in the tight confined, inexorable room where the films world revolves. Characters filter in and out of the cell and we spend a lot of the A Violent Man’s run time listening to Macklesons inner monologue, which from time to time is injected with a visceral moments of sheer violence that not only portray the stark reality of the character, but punctuate the story with a unremitting reminder of the true nature of Mackleson.
Craig Fairbrass is simply at the pinnacle of his career here. Off the back of the equally excellent Villain, Fairbrass simply is a wonder to watch throughout. He simply consumes the whole film and you are on edge waiting for his character to explode once more with a moment of violence and rage. In a film that is weighted pretty much on his shoulders for the entirety of the film, punctuated only by the moments with Stephen Odubola’s (Blue Story) Marcus, who is terrific in the sparing moments we get to delve into his character, Jason Flemyng’s Frank and the prison guards or Zoe Tapper interplaying with Fairbrass it has the look and feel of a very intense theatre play.
Fairbrass has never been so animalistic in a characterisation, despite playing a range of hooligans, criminals and all round wrong ‘uns throughout his career. None have been as terrifying as Stephen Mackleson.
Ross McCall (who plays Luke in the film) direction is a taught, intense and grimy debut, allowing the viewer to feel the anxiety of being in close quarters while making this a study of Macklesons Neurosis. While the film carries it’s story well, there are moments of some strange editing choices which are somewhat jarring, but not in way that helps the narrative. It’s a solid directorial debut though and one that will have you interested to see what McCall does next.
A Violent Man is a intense ride and is up there with some of the best prison dramas. So miss this at your peril, because Fairbrass has never been so good and A Violent Man is just that.