SYNOPSIS: Steve Mackleson is a dangerous prisoner, incarcerated for double murder in a maximum-security prison. We follow, as he navigates his struggle against redemption the system and his inner turmoil, when a young black gang member becomes his unlikely new cellmate and a daughter he has never met, finally requests to meet her estranged father. Face to face.
A Violent Man marks the directorial debut of actor Ross McCall, who you may recognise from “Band of Brothers,” with this film also being notable as his second screenwriting credit following 2020’s romance, About Us.
Set almost entirely in a single jail cell, this tightly contained (10 x 8) drama focuses on lifer Steve Mackleson (Fairbrass), a double murderer and top dog in his wing. Everything begins in silence: A blurred image in soft light that suggests calm gives way to the horrifying sound of a brutal stabbing. The camera finally comes into full focus on a bloody, outstretched hand setting the tone for what is about to come.
It’s fair to say that Fairbrass has, arguably, become somewhat typecast over the years as a movie hard man, with this reputation having become even further cemented by the likes of Rise of the Foot Soldier and St. George’s Day, and it’s easy to see why with his muscular 6ft 3in frame. But it’s also unfair to pigeonhole him as a go-to action man, something his most recent – and best – turns in Muscle and Villain can attest to. As Steve, Fairbrass flexes his dramatic chops here to great effect, imposing more than just his image on screen as a notorious con who embraces his violent ways.
When his young new cellmate Marcus (Stephen Odubola) arrives, Steve surprisingly takes him under his wing and it’s this good deed, along with an impending meeting with the estranged daughter he’s never met, that sees him begin to struggle with thoughts of his own redemption.
McCall’s screenplay offers some degree of social commentary, as Mackleson suggests that some young offenders deserve more lenient methods of punishment. Prison is a harsh place and instead of offering rehabilitation to the youths it houses, incarceration can often have the opposite effect, painting an even bleaker outlook on life, increasing the chances of them reoffending and running the risk of ending up institutionalised.
Ultimately, A Violent Man is well shepherded by McCall whose social commentary provokes a reaction and raises awareness and he elicits yet another sublime performance from persistent powerhouse, Fairbrass.