Movie Review: Avengement

Avengement (2019)

Director: Jesse V. Johnson

Writer: Jesse V. Johnson

Stars: Scott Adkins, Craig Fairbrass, Thomas Turgoose

Streaming on Netflix (as of 10/1/2019)

Avengement, the 2019 crime thriller written and directed by former stuntman Jesse V. Johnson, is brutally violent, swiftly plotted, and magnificently entertaining.  At only four minutes in, the movie’s star Scott Adkins, himself a former stuntman and competitive martial artist, dispatches a pub’s two doormen quickly and without warning.  Incidents of savagery such as this occur in nearly every scene in the film, and while this does appeal particularly to action junkies such as I, the excellent script and star-affirming performance of its lead correspond to transform what would be a cheap and gritty B-movie into a genuinely compelling thrill ride.

The film follows Cain Burgess (Adkins), a character who, through circumstances outside of his control, has become an animal.  His face at the beginning of the movie is covered in burn scars, he has a gash in his cheek and he has silver teeth.  All of these things are the consequence of injuries the viewer watches him sustain in one of the movie’s many flashback sequences.  In the hands of a less confident director, this backwards form of story construction might have rendered the film a narrative mess, but Johnson holds the structure together with aplomb, trusting that his star can keep an audience engrossed without exhausting them.

His star and frequent collaborator Scott Adkins holds the film together with an intense, seething performance.  We see as the movie goes along how Cain (Adkins) was transformed from a powerful yet gentle street tough into a hardened psychopath, and each phase of this evolution makes perfect sense.  The story adheres to a structure wherein it transfers intermittently among three periods of time, which could potentially become confusing, but Johnson does a remarkable job of allowing the narrative to direct its own path.  Both Johnson and Adkins grew up in densely populated, urban sectors of England, and their experience with the seedier characters and settings clothes their film in authenticity.

Despite the characters, language and violence which all seem to my American ears genuine, there is no denying that Avengement is a fantasy.  This fantasy is an undeniably brutal, pessimistic one, which allows the filmmakers to patch together some less-than stellar supporting performances with shockingly barbaric violence.  Overall, though I think that Adkins’ remarkable performance gives this bloody tableau a solid emotional footing, it’s primarily a grim, bloody good time in hell.

 

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Movie Review: Avengement

Treetops (volume 4)

4. Concourse Parkway

Norwood Park was like every other park in the city during the day, a collection of baseball diamonds and children running as fast as they can.  At night though, Norwood Park belonged to the gangs.

It hadn’t always been this way.  There was even a time when Norwood Park and the Teddy were considered sister parks, and in 2003, the two were connected by a shiny sidewalk marketplace filled with book stores and vintage record shops.  The area became a magnet for moneyed tourists, a garden of possibilities for pickpockets and stick-up-men, so gangs were permanently struggling to gain control of it.

Two of the city’s biggest gangs, the Vikings and the Gents, spent the entire year of 2005 at war over this stretch of real estate, and on September 26th, two combatants were stabbed to death in the alley behind the Bombay Noodle Hut.  As a result of this and several other violent departures from normalcy, consumers avoided the area.  As the years stretched on and the gangs went nowhere, Concourse Parkway became a retail graveyard, and thus, it was no longer an area of contention between any gangs.

Businesses began to fail and get boarded up, creating the skeletal remains of commerce.  These corpses continued to serve a purpose at least for the gangs, as empty space to cover with spray paint signatures.  Roly, upon seeing all the tags, called out,  “Do we have a sprayer?”

“No,” Max said, “We didn’t bring one.”

“Fuckin of course not,” Roly stepped away from the others, casting his hands frustrated to the sky.

Mason, having been handed a can of red spray paint by one of his soldiers, tossed it up to Roly.  “Here ya go.”

Roly began to shake it vigorously, making that familiar rattle loud enough for all to hear.  Simon asked, “What is that red?” but it was more statement than question.  He knew that the can was red, Red was the Heaters signifying color, while the Treetops’ was green.

“You’re right,” said Roly as he flipped the can back to Mason, “Can’t use it.”

Mason shrugged, took the can and tossed it to another Heater as he signaled toward a blank patch of brick over a dumpster with a closed lid.  The Heater, a pudgy boy with thick glasses, started struggling to pull himself up and tag the space with a red H.

Seeing this, Simon made himself known, calling out loudly, “Right, I’ma just keep goin, anyone can join me.”

Art jogged over to Simon, beckoning Max to join them, which he did.  Roly stood at the mouth of the alley holding his hands in front of him attempting to bar anyone from leaving, “Wait we’re almost done.”

“Na, just catch up,” Big D said as he joined Max Art and Simon.  The Treetops stepped into the street, posting up next to a jeep.

After a short time the Jeep’s doors opened, and out stepped a young couple.  The man, Zachary wore a purple handkerchief around his neck, and the woman, Angelica, had a purple doo-rag on her head.  Max knew who they were.  He was head of the Gents and she was head of the Rosie’s, two gangs with a history of interbreeding so deep that they’d long ago been considered in effect the same gang.

The Rosie spoke first, “Who’re you?”

Simon introduced them, “The Treetops, from Evergreen.”

“Tourists,” said a heavily tattooed man holding a cedar cane and wearing shined wingtips as he too stepped out of the Jeep, “Get the fuck outta here.”

Max dug in his pocket, looking for the invitation he’d received that morning, but Simon spoke before he could find it.  “Or what?”

The Gent seemed stunned, clearly unused to defiance.  “Or we fuck you up, what you think?”  He took the cane, held it up vertically as its tip planted onto the cement directly in front of him.

Max found the invitation and held it out.  “Here’s our pass to the summit, it’s cool.”

Angelica stepped forward and grabbed the invitation.  “What the fuck is this?”  As she read the pass she chuckled, “oh my god you stupid fucks, where’d you get this?”

Just then, Roly, Mason and the Heaters arrived huffing and gasping, having run half the way down the block.  “These are the Treetops, from one a the south suburbs, Evergreen, they’re cool though.”

Angelica shook her head laughing.  “They’re cool?”  She turned and walked directly to Mason, staring at him in the eyes as she did.  “They don’t look cool.”

Art, who’d previously been silent, offered what he felt was a helpful suggestion.  “We could just throw down.”  Everyone who’d heard was stunned, and rendered quiet by their surprise.  “I mean, if ya just wanna know if we’re for real, there’s an easy way to find out right?”  He stared down each Gent in turn, finally stopping in front of the biggest one, Zachary.

He looked around, watching Art’s eyes and the eyes of his fellow gang members, and he knew what was expected of him.  He swung hard, landing his knuckles in Art’s cheek with a moist wallop.

After having the position of his head suddenly and violently altered, he slowly brought it back to standard position.  The Rosies and the Gents both shot into action, creating semi-circles behind their members

“Is that it?” Art said grinning ear to ear.  He hadn’t moved at all, and did not appear to have been struck.  Zachary was bolstered then, and pulled his fist back farther than before, but Art interjected with an elbow to the gut.  Zachary hadn’t seen it coming, so it knocked the wind out of him, and he collapsed gasping for air.

None of the Gents or the Rosies made a move, and all held silent.  Mason stepped forward,  “These are the Treetops, from Evergreen, they’re coming in to the summit, ‘kay?”

As the Treetops crossed the street from the concourse to Norwood Park, Max jogged ahead of them again and called out, “Simon, Roly, D, Art, powow.”  He flipped an open palm above his head and used it to signal that the Treetops should come together.

Mason raised his arm and opened his mouth as if to offer protest, then thought better of it, and stuck his hands in his pockets.  He hurried across the street to the park and disappeared in the shadows.

When he was certain Mason was out of earshot, Max spoke sounding nervous.  “I don’t trust Mason, I think those invitations were fake, I think he planted them.”  As he made his suspicions known, he became aware that though Big D’s face wore its standard blank expression, he detected what he thought was a nervous tension in Roly’s knit eyebrows.

“Yeah well that’s real interesting,” Simon spoke, his voice filled with what could be described as an aggressive boredom.  “I’m not goin’ back to Evergreen.  Mason’s suspicious, okay, so what?”

“Yeah I’m not missing this,” said Art, “I can handle myself.”

Max was frustrated by what he felt was brash overconfidence displayed by his fellow Treetops.  Didn’t they realize the danger of their situation?  Could he really trust Roly and Big D?  The Treetops were a gang, not a family, so every member was a potential traitor.

After a time of silent consideration, Roly interjected.  “Don’t worry about Mason.  Mason’s solid–well, he’s not solid, but he’s not, ya know, not, ambitious, I guess.”

“What?”  Max blared, as he’d not expected Roly to use that word.  The wheels in his head rolled over the word again and again.  “Ambitious?  What’s that supposed to mean?  What the fuck does Mason have to be ambitious about?  Why’d you pick that word?”

“I don’t know, uh, I just said it, it felt right I don’t know.”

Max grabbed Roly’s collar and forced him backwards until his back met the cold jagged brick of the alley wall.  “Are you working with Mason?  What’s the plan?”

Big D grabbed Max’s arm and wrenched it away, holding it against his own chest.  “Come on, guys, let’s just go to the speech.”

Roly dropped onto his ass, folding his arms around his knees.  “I don’t know why I said ambitious, I guess cause it sounded cool, I don’t know.”

Across the street, Simon and Art already stood, motioning with their hands for the others to join them.  Max yelled, “are you ladies done?  It’s not safe for young ladies to wander at night, look.”

The gangs were heading into the park, and in the distance was heard the squeal of a PA system turning on.  The speech was just about to take place, so Simon and Art turned and walked toward the noise, with Max Roly and Big D in tow.  Max was still extremely nervous, but there was no time to deal with fears, however justified.

Volume 3

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Treetops (volume 4)

Treetops (Volume 3)

3. The Teddy

Mason led them to the Main Concourse, an asphalt line that bisected the park and was peppered with streetlights.  It was twenty yards wide, and at night completely barren, making of it an eerie black stone river.

Simon, energized from what he felt was a victory over Mason, could not hide his excitement.  “Let’s find a spot and post up, see what happens.”  As Simon broke into a light jog, coasting in front of the rest.

Mason grinned, barely letting his teeth show.  Max noticed this anticipatory smile and called after Simon.  “I don’t think that’s real wise.”

Simon responded, “Whatever,” curt and sharp.  He sat on a garbage can, hanging his feet before its mouth.

As soon as he did this, two large, muscled gang members rushed out from under the trees and knocked Simon to the ground, causing him to land painfully on his hip.  They were both wearing black tank tops, green suspenders and world war 2 era headgear.

“The summit is to take place in Norwood park, keep moving.”  These were members of War Helmet, a gang renowned throughout the city for its brutal discipline.  Simon tried to lash out at the Helmet who’d assaulted him, but before he could take a swing, two more grabbed him by each arm and held him still.

“That’s War Helmet,” Mason said casually, “They’re providing some of the security.”

“Security?”  Simon opened his mouth as if he didn’t understand.  After just a moment of consideration he closed his mouth and relaxed his arms, seeing that in a physical contest he would be outmatched and outnumbered.  “Understood.”  Simon frowned and lowered his head.

As they continued down the Concourse, Mason kept the dialog going.  “War Helmet comes from Port Ashland, I don’t know much about them, don’t mess with ’em though.”

“Yeah,” Simon said, defeated.

As quickly as the members of War Helmet had arrived, they disappeared into the darkness created by the trees.  Art was intrigued by this show of mastery, and he searched the darkness for other members of this gang, crouching under low branches and peering up through the leaves toward the streetlights.

“Stop looking for us,” a voice came from nowhere, loud and deep.  “The summit is to take place in Norwood park, clear the Concourse.”

“Or what?”  Simon strode slowly into the middle of the black, solid path.  Stretching his arms to his sides, he straightened his right leg out in front of him, than switched it with his left.  “Come on, War Helmet, scare me, I wanna see your force.”

After around 15 seconds watching the willows, Mason tapped Simon on the shoulder and spoke softly into his ear.  “Unless you’re gonna go in there and look for them, I think we should go.”

With his mouth held open and his pupils flicking back and forth, Simon nodded and began to walk forward.  The rest of the Treetops followed, continuing a frightened caravan.

 

The Treetops came to and passed what was affectionately referred to as the Big Fountain.  The Big Fountain had once upon a time been one of the city’s central meeting places, hosting all manner of political rallies and musical performances, but it had been decades since water had flowed through it.  Now it was simply a grouping of mold-covered gargoyles looking fearsome and portending doom.

Seeing that on the edge of the Big Fountain sat a fairly nondescript group of street hoods, displaying no obvious colors and all facing in different directions.  Passing them, Mason casually waved his hand.  “Jeremy.”

A Skinny man in an undershirt waved, remaining silent.  His face was gaunt and his bones stuck out, making it appear as though he’d not eaten for years.  The streetlights circling the fountain made the divots and crevices in his face create shadows when the streetlight hit them from the right angle.  The shadows on his face made him appear ghostlike, but not the ghost of a person, more a dark harbinger of the end times.

“That was Jeremy, he runs The Numbers, they’re all right.”  From the fountain, The Treetops and The Heaters continued through a tight group of willow trees.  The trees were packed together such that they created a decaying canopy, moonlight shining through its gaps at different angles.

Max became uneasy.  “Who’re The Numbers?”  Max asked nervously, as though the answer would harm him.

“They’re from the outskirts, I think, by the train yards, I think.”

Waiting until the Numbers were out of earshot, Simon eventually proffered his analysis.  “The Numbers is a stupid name.”

“So is the Treetops,” said Art, casting his potentially offensive statement casually; just throwing it out there.  “And so is the Forty-Niners, and so is the Heaters.  Gang names are stupid.”  Art looked into Simon’s eyes, challenging him.  Simon and Art conflicted often, sometimes even coming to blows, but Simon was too scared after his encounter with War Helmet to tire himself out in this way, so he said nothing.

As soon as he invoked the name of the Heaters, which had already been the center of a contentious moment, Art looked Mason in the eye, seemingly daring him to make a move.  Mason silently kept moving, trying not to look at Art.

“The numbers is a stupid name,” Simon spoke, his voice tinged with anticipation.  “The Heaters is a stupider name though, it must be said.”

In an instant Simon was on his back, Mason standing over him with a cocked-back fist.  “Why’re you fuckin with me?”

Simon twisted and pushed up with his hands, backing Mason up and claiming his own patch of grass.  “Cause we don’t need you.  I don’t even know why you’re here, get the fuck out.”

“He’s here cause we wanted a guide,” Roly said, backing Simon and Mason away from one another.  “We weren’t gonna come up here with no plan.  Mason knows the park better than we do.”

“Oh wow he probably knows they got trees and stuff.”  Simon spoke staring into Mason’s eyes as they circled each other, Big D standing between them.  “Fuck that, like we can’t figure it out.”

As he stretched his arms out, Big D sounded like a toddler begging his parents not to hurt each other.  “Two is better than one right?  Isn’t that a good enough reason?”

Simon responded quickly, “No, I don’t trust Mason, he’s got a plan and I don’t like it.”

Purposefully and deliberately, Max strode out between them.  “Cool it, Simon.  Fact is, we weren’t gonna come without a guide and you know it.”

“But why couldn’t we come without a guide?  We got an invitation same as them, we’re not stupid.”

Max lowered his head and beckoned Simon with his hand to lower his the same way so they could speak more softly and privately with one another.  “I wasn’t comin’ without a guide, that’s what it comes to.  You wanna blame someone for nothing?  Fine blame me, but cool it, you’re not helping us, look around.”

Simon stood up straight, looked around and saw they were surrounded at all sides by the Heaters, many of them clutching weapons.  He looked left to right, seeing the whole situation.  “Okay, you’re right, that was uncalled for, I apologize.”

Mason stood silent watching Simon’s face, seeing from his expression that his apology had been insincere.  “It’s okay, whatever.  Want us to take you to Norwood now?”

Max felt sickened by Mason’s superior attitude, but he just said “yeah,” and they all moved on.

Treetops (Volume 3)