BREAKDOWN (2016)

6 out of 10

Release Date: 16th January 2016 (DVD Premiere)

Director: Jonnie Malachi

Cast: Craig Fairbrass, James Cosmo, Olivia Grant, Emmett J Scanlan, Amanda Wass, Mem Ferda, Rab Affleck, Richard Cunningham, Brian Nickels, Taser Hassan, Hugh Rose, Natasha Mayo, Bethan Wright with Bruce Payne and Tamer Hassan

Writer: Jonnie Malachi

Trailer: BREAKDOWN

Breakdown-Quad-Poster-Jonnie-Malachi

Here’s an anomaly. Breakdown is far better than it should be. It’s formulaic but succeeds where similar films like Assassin (2015), A Hitman In London, and Survivor (2015) have all stumbled or fell. It stops to give the characters a bit of colour and whilst it’s far from perfect it’s a solid and enjoyable watch for the most part. The film also gives Brit-lunk Craig Fairbrass (BULA QUO!) his first real attempt at a character, as opposed to a type. He’s at last found a project he can invest in and he grabs the opportunity with both hands.

Fans of low-budget action will not be disappointed as our hero Alfie (Craig Fairbrass) takes on his old employers, a shadowy organisation of hitmen (ex-soldiers) called Homefront. It’s not clear what they’re overall mission but in this film ithey seem to work for Turkish gangsters that want to kill other Turkish gangsters.  The brotherhood Alfie’s a part of is overseen by James Cosmo’s (THE LEGEND OF BARNEY THOMPSON) Mr Chapman. After many years of being their loyal and most prized hitman, Alfie begins to get the jitters. He experiences visions from the past and suffers a breakdown, mid execution which embarrasses his bosses. Given a chance to redeem himself, Alfie fucks up in a different way prompting him to come under the gun by his brothers in arms. He must now protect his daughter and wife from certain death.

OK, so far so formulaic, but why are the scenes between Alfie and his daughter Maya (AMANDA WASS) so convincing and well-scripted? Some of the dialogue is rote but it’s delivered well and its not just in these scenes which take time to establish Alfie’s relationships with his wife (OLIVIA GRANT – INDIAN SUMMERS) and Maya.Elsewhere, there’s signs of attention to care and detail. There are some unusual quirks too. It’s rare that a hitman is given a home life in the movies. It’s even stranger that the wife and daughter are complicit in what the father does. For instance, Alfie takes his daughter deer hunting on Homefront land on the eve of her 16th birthday. Compare a similar scene in Age of Kill and you will see what I mean. This film works. Age of Kill was a dire laughter fest.

Elsewhere, fight scenes are chorerographed and edited with aplomb, its like we’re watching something made for cinema, not a low-rent action clunker. James Cosmo makes his scenes as an eccentric cult-leader-cum-crime lord soar in a role that sways between paternal love and potent fear donation. Bruce Payne (PASSENGER 57) and Tamer Hassan (ROBOT OVERLORDS) show up in unlikely roles, and steal the scenes they’re in too. A quirky, hitman played by unknown Richard Cunningham (45 YEARS) also livens proceedings up considerably.

There are some faults in the storyline – for instance, there’s always, always somebody to rescue Alfie at the last second when he’s in real jam. But the tension is still ratcheted up. I put the quality down to these factors: a) Craig Fairbrass and the usual suspects got sick of being in terrible films about gangsters and hitmen so went out to make a good one, keeping it in the family (Craig’s son Luke produces) and b) there’s something written in the cosmos that there can only be so many bad British films made and then watched by Britpic before a decent one is made by mistake. c) It’s very rare that Craig Fairbrass has had chance to show off how good an actor he really can be (I’d pick this role and his Pat Tate – Rise of The Footsoldier).  I fully expect Craig, Tamer, Bruce and Mem to turn up in the usual kind of ‘2 out of 10’ sh*t they always star in after this. But this is a rare bright spot and it’s existence should be celebrated. Just what did that Turkish guy put in Alfie’s kebab at the start?

6 out of 10 – Astonishingly good considering its constituent parts. The assembly work is impeccable because the actors do some very good work to make this predictable version of ‘Who’d Be a Hitman?‘ entertaining. 2016’s Vendetta? Maybe. Don’t let this be a fluke, gentleman, Craig Fairbrass has got another starring role in London Heist in a few months. You’ve got our attention.

WHAT HAVE I SEEN THAT ACTOR IN BEFORE?

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One thought on “BREAKDOWN (2016)

  1. The Misery of the Clapped-Out Murderer: how often can this story be told? As a genre there’s little to it (tough guy has ab-dabs; betrayal, mayhem and tears ensue), and yet it’s a staple of the low budget British crime film, giving (amongst others) Martin Kemp, Danny Dyer and now Craig Fairbrass the opportunity to show off their acting skills by looking mildly peeved when their character feels a bit peaky. Strangely, BREAKDOWN is rather good when measured against others of its ill-begotten ilk like AGE OF KILL, ASSASSIN, and anything containing the words: ESSEX, GANGSTER, or HOOLIGAN.

    James Cosmo plays the head of Homefronts, which sounds like a daytime TV show for retired Territorials, but is really a group of pretentious mercenaries. Cosmo is a seemingly genial old buffer, and has great fun with the role, particularly when he becomes a sadistic killer (there was no way that that wasn’t going to happen, though the reveal might have been better later in the film). I can imagine Nigel Farage regarding Cosmo’s character as a role model for his post-referendum career. True, Cosmo is in the pay of dodgy foreigners, but so, by his own logic, is Nige. Cosmo is a deluded old man, yearning for a past which never existed and playing soldiers with a bunch of jumped-up psychopaths and perverts (honestly, any similarity with any political campaign groups is surely unintended).

    Anyway, the mercenaries parade about pretending to be honourable soldiers. Chief among them is Alfie, played with customary granitic resolve by Craig Fairbrass. But, for reasons never explained (maybe the film-makers couldn’t be bothered to devise a reason, or maybe it was a deliberate omission, an acknowledgement that mental health problems have no simple single cause), he starts having visions of people he’s killed. This is quite traumatic for him (nobody seems bothered about any trauma suffered by his victims but the first bloke he recalls is described as a ‘nonce’ so that’s all right; surprisingly Alfie isn’t tortured by recollections of killing pregnant women, which would typically be a guilt-trigger in this sort of film, so clearly his troubles aren’t guilt-related, but, as my colleague suggests, maybe it’s all down to the dodgy kebab?). Inevitably this starts to affect his work, and Homefronts is not the sort of employee-friendly organization which might send its best worker off to a spa for a bit of TLC. Instead Cosmo initiates a series of traps and wild-goose-chases designed to end Alfie’s career permanently. Alfie, instead of going to an employment tribunal (maybe he can’t afford the fees introduced by Mr Gove?), decides to use his job-related skills to extricate him from the mess.

    Fortunately for Alfie, Cosmo is quite old-fashioned and doesn’t count on Alfie training his female relatives to shoot on the off-chance that shooting a large number of murderers might come in handy one day (I like the bit where Alfie tells his daughter how important it is for her to defend herself because one day he’s not going to be around to fix things – even though the only reason she’s likely to be in danger is because her dad’s a cold-hearted killing machine with lots of enemies. Surprisingly these scenes do work).

    The film chunters along adequately, and occasionally impressively (the scene where Cosmo and his cohort of cut-throats interrupts a family celebration is almost beautifully eerie). It’s at its best when people are talking to each other (a rarity in this genre). There are genuinely good confrontations and it’s clear that supporting characters have lives of their own (rather than just being there to get beaten up). The performances help. Emmett J Scanlan plays the best friend (with several agendas) with a clever mix of charm and slime (a bit of an Iago in the making if only I could understand more of what he said – it’s not the accent so much as the sound – several actors utter dialogue incomprehensibly. I think it’s a problem with the sound mixing). Meanwhile there’s a nice cameo from Bruce Payne as someone who’s been on Alfie’s wrong side before, and Olivia Grant (Alfie’s wife) is allowed to do more than just look a bit worried. Fairbrass impresses without stretching himself (a smile occasionally fractures the surface) – this is a role which suits him perfectly and he responds in kind. Despite the murmuring, Fairbrass is on good form here (though I prefer the flip-flop moment in BULA QUO!). Tamer Hassan has a pointless cameo reminiscent of his aristocrat in THE REVEREND. Hassan fans can give this a miss. But it’s better than much of the tosh he winds up in.

    Unfortunately, too many of Alfie’s scrapes are resolved by easy rescues, which leads to the biggest problem: the two-part finale. The scene where the remaining footsoldiers lay siege to our heroes’ house is muddled, especially as the baddies are led (briefly) by someone who’s little more than an extra. Then our heroes’ plan goes wrong solely because that’s what happens in films. Then in the final showdown someone produces a gun which he really shouldn’t have been able to produce in that situation.

    BREAKDOWN succeeds in building a slightly surreal world without being weird. Fairbrass’s house is large yet airless, a family home which seems more like a museum. BREAKDOWN is no masterpiece, but for those who wish their Essex-gangster-hooligan films were properly made, with scenes which relate to each other, with credible, interesting characters, with dialogue that sounds natural, with a storyline which makes some sense, with music by someone who’s thought about what he’s doing (and watched the film), and which is acted by proper, convincing actors in well-shot locations which don’t look like someone’s local car-park, then this is the film to see. Although hardly the most edifying genre, if you have to see a recent low-budget British film about a hit-man going through a bad patch who tries to recover by shooting his way out, then this is probably the best of the bunch.

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