Movie Review: A Violent Man

By Justin Prinsloo 18.03.2019

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A Violent Man (UK Rating: 18)

Nothing typifies A Violent Man quite like the film's struggle to hit the big screen: originally shown at the 2017 Oldenburg Film Festival in Germany, this contemporary noir thriller has only, in February 2019, managed to reach cinemas in the West. It doesn't take buckets of intuition to assume that this might be a poor reflection on the quality of the film.

A Violent Man's premise is simple enough: Unknown MMA fighter, Ty (played by former NFL running back, Thomas Q. Jones) finds himself as the prime suspect in a murder investigation after being the last person seen with the victim. At the same time, his fighting career opens up when he beats champion Marco Reign (Chuck Liddell) in an impromptu training match at the gym he works for. He must subsequently juggle his newfound fame with the relational fallout caused by his loved ones questioning his innocence. This naturally sees him unravel as the plot attempts to progress.

Murder and MMA form the playground for a genre-switching game of hopscotch. True to its thriller identity, there's forever the sense of foreboding that something deeper is at play, while the rise-to-stardom trope of the typical boxing film is also present. This vision is an interesting one but is let down in a few key areas: the film seems desperate to hold the viewer's hand and forces as much information about what's happening on-screen into its weak script as it can. However, despite the assumption that the viewer needs to be spoon-fed, there's a strange absence of character exposition that would serve to better flesh the cast out. This juxtaposition sees A Violent Man fall into the dreaded cinematic error of noticeably existing in a vacuum.

The disparity between saying too much and not saying enough is subsequently the most visceral fight that takes place over the exorbitant 109-minute runtime. Not even the ever-escalating domestic strife between Ty and his girlfriend Whitney, who is brought to life thanks to a standout performance by Khalila Joi, can overshadow the weak pacing and direction. Apart from a poorly-clipped montage foreshadowing the murder in the opening credits, the victim only turns up more than a half-hour into the film. This isn't the only pacing issue - the big killer reveal occurs just two minutes before the final credits roll via a confession so mindless as to be laughable.

Atrocious pacing aside, the greatest failure here is the utter lack of a pay-off and the misplaced sense of doom that the film wears like the putrid debris atop month-old milk. A Violent Man wants to be mature in making the statement that justice is often a fallacy, but its delivery is ironically so unsound that the gloomy ending is unjustifiable. Pretentiousness abounds elsewhere, as well, with some self-indulgent camerawork and artistic direction belying a lack of skilled directorial vision.

Furthermore, the narrative is mercilessly bogged down by a stuttering script and some poor performances, which not even Joi or the accomplished Isaach de Bankolé, who plays Ty's coach/father figure, can rescue. Ty as a character is unlikeable and simply not compelling enough to pull it off. It often feels like A Violent Man wants him to be liked, but his absolute inanity in the face of adversity makes this nigh on impossible. It's difficult to give examples without straying into spoiler territory, but here are some broad samples: Ty violates a non-disclosure agreement seconds after making it, lies to detectives despite glaring DNA evidence, and possesses an unrealistic inability to read social situations. Perhaps his foibles are an attempt to make him three-dimensional, but his bone-dry stupidity is more an immersion-shattering nuisance than it is a believable Achilles' heel.

Negatives aside, A Violent Man does have a few things going for it that serve to hold it up, albeit on wobbly legs. The dark soundtrack is great and is hands-down the strongest pillar of the film - by its grace alone is a suitable tone established. Ty, despite his thick-headedness, is still very watchable, as is the rest of the picture. If a grade is passed solely on the ability to keep the viewer intrigued, then A Violent Man would pass for a tolerable film. For all its failures, it tries its darnedest to retain an air of mystery throughout, and even though both its MMA DNA and its murder mystery traits are little more than clichéd snippets of their genre contemporaries, the stylistic pairing makes for an intriguing marriage.

To put it simply, A Violent Man is a movie that fails so dismally that it makes people appreciate how tough good filmmaking is to achieve. For this reason, it might best be served as a film school case study. There's nothing wrong with its concept, and Berkowitz's direction periodically shows glimpses of potential, but it ultimately falls into almost every trap in the bag - it is clichéd, poorly scripted, and awfully produced. It's tough to recommend it because of the issues with its delivery but, despite its failings, it manages to mostly stick together and provide some measure of entertainment.

Rated 3 out of 10


A Violent Man is undisputedly an interesting film; it's very watchable and, at times, even compelling. In the end, however, very little can be salvaged from the wreckage wrought by a poor script and some awful pacing issues, as well as a deprived delivery of its core themes and message that leave it a garbled and unsatisfying mess by the time the credits roll. The filmmakers' reluctance to give the audience some breathing room to enjoy the film without being told how to enjoy it results in a sadly unaccomplished title that gives itself too much credit to be believable.

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