London looks a lot like London really does in Philip Barantini's ageing-gangster-in-comfy-shoes film.
At first glance, actor-turned-director Philip Barantini’s ‘Villain’ looks like a box-ticking exercise in Laandan gangsterism. But it’s not. By playing it completely straight, it avoids campy Guy Ritchie clichés. There are no crazy camera angles, no one’s called ‘Mr Fish Finger’ or anything, there are no cards saying stuff like ‘Chapter 4: The Blag’, and no one wears a coat with a velvet collar.
Eddie Franks (Craig Fairbrass) is released after a ten-year stretch to find a world changed and his useless brother Sean in debt to the wrong people. The set-up is straightforward, but there’s detail and pathos here. Eddie is confused by a London he doesn’t recognise – there are neat nods to gentrification and violent teenagers. He’s no longer a ‘villain’, but an ageing man in comfy sneakers and grandfather to a child he’s never met. His nemesis is vicious loan shark Roy Garrett (a mesmerising Robert Glenister): you sense that however much Eddie wants to be free of Roy’s clutches, part of him cleaves to this embodiment of old-fashioned thuggery.
Okay, it’s not entirely off-piste: there are guns and hammers. There’s a bloke in the boot of a car; people ‘take liberties’; and everyone gets called a cunt. But ‘Villain’ feels like twenty-first-century London: racially diverse, divided along class and privilege lines, scared of the young, scared of getting old. If Barantini can avoid wearing a tweed cap and opening a pub, he’ll be worth watching out for.