Saturday, July 4, 2015

Villain (1971)

Even with the colorful Richard Burton starring as a criminal so vicious that his first onscreen murder involves slashing a fellow with a straight razor and then hanging the poor slob’s body out of a high-rise window, the UK-made drama/thriller Villain is tedious. Running only 98 minutes but feeling much longer, the movie is one of myriad ’70s crime films that attempted to humanize gangsters by depicting their private lives and by dramatizing the constant danger of betrayal and capture. Based on a book by James Barlow, Villain also has an unusual gender-studies angle, since Burton’s character is bisexual. Oh, and Burton’s lover is played by the forceful British actor Ian McShane, who years later achieved fame on the HBO Western series Deadwood. Given the givens, Villain should be interesting. Yet somehow, the filmmaking team led by director Michael Tuchner transformed lurid raw material into something dull, lifeless, and turgid. The story tracks London gangster Vic Dakin (Burton) as he plans a payroll heist and as he struggles to keep his criminal house in order despite wounds inflicted by snitches and turncoats. Vic also spends quiet weekend mornings with his aging mother. The filmmakers periodically kick up the energy level, especially during the bloody heist scene, but more often than not, the movie presents flat dialogue scenes filled with drab exposition and predictable character dynamics. Burton exacerbates the movie’s inert quality because he’s absurdly miscast—naturally suited to playing anguished snobs, he’s out of his element portraying a vulgar thug with a Cockney accent. And even with the bisexual angle, McShane barely registers. Also wasted are the normally reliable British actors Joss Ackland, Nigel Davenport, and Fiona Lewis. Seeing as how the whole goal of the picture is to make viewers both empathize with and fear Vic Dakin, the fact that he engenders only an indifferent reaction indicates why Villain doesn’t work.

Villain: LAME


Will Errickson said...

Can't wait for you to review THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY as part of one of your 1980 weeks! Now that's a British crime flick.

By Peter Hanson said...

I had originally expected to include the robust LONG GOOD FRIDAY, but then I realized the movie wasn't released in the US until 1982. The differences between international release dates and US release dates for some movies create considerable confusion from a film-history perspective. To keep this project under control, I'm sticking to US release dates, even though a few movies have slipped through the cracks that shouldn't have -- for instance, SUPERMAN II, by the criteria of this blog, is technically a 1981 movie because that's when it opened in the US, having opened in the UK the previous year. Weird..