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.