I’m starting to think prison may not be an ideal rehabilitation environment…
There are so many cinematic subgenres that I absolutely adore. Among them: British gangster films, prison movies, fight films, revenge narratives, and projects starring Scott Adkins. Being that Avengement covers all of these, yeah, I was an easy mark for this film. The fact that it was co-written by Stu Small (childhood friend of Scott Adkins and writer on several past Adkins projects like Accident Man and The Debt Collector) and Jesse V. Johnson (writer/director/stunt professional) also had me foaming at the mouth to take in this project.
Johnson and Adkins have been on an absolute tear in the past several years, cranking out no less than 5 films together as a director/star duo since 2017. Frankly, every single one of those has been good, though some are better than others. I personally found The Debt Collector to be their greatest collaboration simply because it caters so closely to my own personal tastes. That’s where I find myself with Avengement too. Not nearly as ambitious as their last film, Triple Threat, or as high concept as Accident Man, Avengement is an explicitly British gangster film that owes more to Get Carter or The Long Good Friday than it does Undisputed. That’s not to say it’s a quiet film, however. Adkins spends half of the film screaming with animalistic rage. And with good cause.
Cain Burgess is angry. He’s angry that he’s in prison. He’s angry that his gangster brother put him there. He’s angry that he just lost his mother to cancer. He’s angry because it’s the only way he can survive in the hardest prison in Britain. His anger fuels him, and he’s about to get a chance to quench that fire.
Told through a series of flashbacks marked largely by various stages of ruinous scarring to Cain’s face, Avengement culminates in a pub where he will confront his brother once and for all. We’ll learn about the particularly dehumanizing con that Cain’s brother Lincoln (Craig Fairbrass) has used against his victims to build a semi-prominent criminal empire. We’ll learn about how the fresh-faced Cain pulled a botched job for his brother and how a price was put on his head while he was in prison. We’ll see Cain become an unhinged animal as he does away with his humanity in order to stave off repeated attackers in prison. The Cain who confronts his brother in the pub after their mother has died is a different species than the young, aspirational Cain who went into prison all those years ago. And Lincoln and his men simply aren’t prepared for the new Cain.
Simply put, I absolutely loved Cain Burgess as a character and feel this is Adkins’ most furious performance to date. As a well documented and longtime fan of Adkins, I do my best to cover him fairly despite being largely in the bag for him. He’s always been a remarkable physical talent with all the looks and next level skill for performing on screen action. He hasn’t always been the best actor. Perhaps the greatest thing about Adkins, however, is his absolutely dogged will to be the best at what he does. Over the years he’s greatly improved as an actor, almost through sheer force of will. This is one of the great elements of his collaboration with Jesse V. Johnson and even Stu Small. As Adkins has evolved from “gun for hire” leading man to collaborator and producer, he’s been able to craft more interesting characters and push himself as a performer. It’s extremely rewarding as a longtime fan to see “ya boi” never settling, never showing signs of exhaustion, but instead pushing himself to the limit time and again, and bringing a higher quality product as a result.
Some might say that all Cain Burgess is is rage and scars. And sure, that’s fair. Burgess isn’t a complicated man. For that matter, Avengement isn’t a complicated story. As much as I love every single genre it dabbles in, it never reinvents any wheels. But damn if it doesn’t represent all those subgenres and tones with honor. Almost certainly shot on very few production days, and most likely with a lower budget than some of Adkins and Johnson’s recent projects, Avengement aims to please and deliver a very specific product that hinges almost entirely on Adkins’ character and skill set. And as a smart piece low budget filmmaking that plays entirely into its strengths, Avengement is pretty remarkable.
It’s not wall to wall action, but it is wall to wall rage. And that’s quite cathartic. Interestingly, the script offers just the mildest glimpse of heroic redemption for Burgess, allowing him to dwell in the realm of “anti-hero” even as he rage-kills bad guys left and right. Avengement is all about stripping the humanity out of Cain Burgess and turning him into the most feral, anti-social miscreant imaginable, putting all of that character work directly onto his face in the form of injuries and scarring, and letting Adkins absolutely tear into that unleashed id with his performance. There’s not a whole lot of complexity to it, but it sure is effective in its singularly focused revenge narrative.
There’s a good chance that many won’t like Avengement as much as I did. It’s not as fan-friendly as Triple Threat or as “of the moment” as Accident Man. It’s a bit of a throwback, like The Debt Collector was. It’s a modern take on classic British gangster films that’s twice as mean as its ancestors. While the flashback mechanism can feel clunky and loads up a fair amount of exposition to get Cain from point A to point B, Avengement is otherwise a streamlined monster giving Adkins a ferocious role to sink his teeth into and gnaw on until the bone is showing.
And I’m Out.
In The US: Avengement hits theaters, On Demand and Digital May 24, 2019 from Samuel Goldwyn Films
In The UK: Avengement releases July 1st from Dazzler Media