Scottish actor Ross McCall is arguably best known for his work across the pond, appearing in US television shows such as Band of Brothers and 24 series spin-off Live Another Day. After a career spanning three decades in front of the camera, he has taken a step behind it to write and direct his first feature film.
A Violent Man, formerly known as Ire, is a crime drama that centres around Steve Mackelson (Craig Fairbrass), a volatile inmate sentenced to life behind bars in a maximum-security prison. With a visit from his estranged daughter looming, he is forced to reckon with his sins and reflect on his behaviour. Meanwhile, his new cellmate Marcus (Stephen Odubola), a young and impressionable gang member, is brought onto the wing.
Opening with a lingering take of a savage attack shifting in and out of focus, it’s evident from the outset that McCall has a strong idea of the aesthetic he wants to achieve. Reminiscent of David Mackenzie’s stunning prison piece Starred Up, the extreme violence is doled out sparingly but mercilessly, drip-fed into a minimalist narrative that begins with slow-burning, arthouse sensibilities. Whilst light on dialogue, a deeply ruminating atmosphere is established as the debut director expresses his knack for capturing effective, engaging compositions. However, as the plot develops and characters have more to say for themselves, some of its early potential is lost to a formulaic script that struggles to spar with the intense quality of the direction.
In recent years, gangster flick hardman Craig Fairbrass has enjoyed a run of form in more complex and compelling roles than he’d become associated with previously. Following on from his stellar work in Muscle and Villain, this is the third turn in his Fairbrenaissance, and he is as menacing as ever in this frank portrayal of contented immorality. There’s a reluctant mentor-mentee companionship at play with Odubola’s Marcus, but despite giving solid performances individually, their connection never feels fully realised. Small supporting roles are filled by an impressive cast including Ulrich Thomsen, Zoë Tapper, Jason Flemyng, Philip Barantini, and McCall himself, and their brief appearances assist in elevating the writing.
The execution of its themes may be a little on the nose, but Ross McCall introduces himself as a visually inventive director with a flair for presenting vicious brutality. A Violent Man is a stylish sign of things to come, and further proof that the screen presence of Craig Fairbrass should not be taken lightly.