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  Violent Man, A Life Behind Bars
Year: 2022
Director: Ross McCall
Stars: Craig Fairbrass, Stephen Odubola, Jason Flemyng, Ross McCall, Ulrich Thomsen, Zoe Tapper, Robin Laing, Philip Barantini, Morgan Watkins, Thomas Dominique, Lloyd Everitt, Michael Lindall, Roger Suubi, Rose Sheehy, Hamza Sidique, Graham Kitchen
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Steve Mackleson (Craig Fairbrass) is in prison for life, he knows it and so does everyone else in the place. He originally went inside for double murder, including his wife, one example of his propensity for violence. Though he appears calm, he can explode at any moment, and while the other inmates know to keep a wide berth, he does have the occasional ally among them - none among the guards, however, who have no sympathy for him and are corrupt, not that Steve ever asks for sympathy, he knows what he is and has accepted his lot long ago. But now he has a new cellmate, Marcus Wainwright (Stephen Odubola), a young man who has taken a wrong turn, but could be out in four years. Steve decides to take him under his wing...

Precisely why he chooses to look after Marcus when the man has been marked as a grass by the other gang members he shares the jail with is not wholly clear, perhaps he does not wish to see him go the same way as he has, a long term inmate whose hope of release dwindles the further he is stuck in his cell. The matter of prisons breeding more criminals than reformed characters is in the background of this, but in the main it was more wrapped up in the torment of Steve facing a request from his now-adult daughter to meet him for the first time in twenty years, a pressing concern the film sort of resolves in the final stretch even as it acknowledges some people are in prison for good reasons, not because of stupid mistakes but because they are a continued danger.

After a while, you notice something about A Violent Man, also known as Ire, and that is it all takes place on a single set, Steve's cell. Well, almost: we venture outside it at the last act, though only in a tight closeup, for dramatic effect, but in the main the claustrophobia of being contained in a confined space for years on end is well conveyed. Our antihero may believe he is a powerful force even within those walls, but we can see he is chained to his worse nature and will never get away from it, leaving him at best a wounded animal in a zoo, and some of those wounds are self-inflicted. Fairbrass, who made his name as a musclebound man of action in guns and geezers low budgeters, is obviously attempting to be taken seriously as a thespian here, and he makes a pretty decent fist of building a three-dimensional personality for Steve that goes beyond the brawn.

That said, one issue is that almost everyone speaks in similar gruff whispers for maximum menace, and that can make them unintelligible for too much of their dialogue which leaves the finer points of the plot difficult to discern when you are straining to make out what they are saying. When the daughter (Rose Sheehy) finally does make her entrance, it's a relief because she can talk with a working class accent and remain clear in what she is telling Steve, demonstrating that swallowing your lines is not necessary for authenticity when this relative newcomer can be perfectly understood without that. This aside, actor-turned-director Ross McCall (who also appears in an extended sequence) proved adept at atmosphere and that feeling of ever-present threat that distinguished the better, non-comedic prison dramas, and was imaginative enough in his options for keeping this visually interesting and staving off monotony, plus the cast were well-chosen. If it was somewhat limited in its achievements, it used its resources with an artier quality than expected from a Fairbrass effort, and that was interesting. Music by Austin Wintory.

[A Violent Man is released in UK cinemas on 4th February 2022.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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