VOD film review: Breakdown
Over-reliance on torture porn2
Blood-soaked birthday cake3
Matthew Turner | On 18, Jan 2016
Director: Jonnie Malachi
Stars: Craig Fairbrass, James Cosmo, Oliva Grant, Mem Ferda
Watch Breakdown online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
Written and directed by Jonnie Malachi, this British gangster thriller stars Craig Fairbrass (whose best role is still Dan Sullivan off EastEnders, back in 2001) as Alfie Jennings, a muscle-bound, ex-military man mountain. He’s a hitman-slash-torturer for a mysterious unit known as Home Front, led by Albert Chapman (Cosmo), who seems to operate out of a mansion in the home counties. Alfie tries hard to keep his wife, Catherine (Grant), and 15 year-old daughter, Maya (Amanda Wass), away from his work, but when he stars having visions of his previous victims while on the job, he becomes compromised, which puts his family at risk, as Home Front seek to minimise their exposure and take him out.
This is risible stuff from beginning to end, although it’s not without its moments, such as a hilariously over-the-top sequence where Alfie hallucinates a blood-soaked birthday cake at his daughter’s 16th birthday party (either that or someone really overdid the jam filling), or amusingly grisly character details (Albert likes to have his human victims stuffed and mounted). Unfortunately, there’s not enough of that sort of thing to go around and the rest is bog-standard geezer gangster rubbish, shot through with nonsensical plotting (Alfie’s breakdown amounts to precisely nothing and apparently disappears once he makes the decision to kill his bosses before they kill him) and a laughably poor attention to detail, such as the fact that Alfie appears to have the world’s loudest silencer on his gun.
On top of that, the film’s attitude to its own violence seems slightly confusing – Alfie’s breakdown appears to be guilt-related and yet he’s apparently happy to indulge in a lengthy spot of torturing (mostly punching and cutting off fingers), while Cosmo and genre staple Tamer Hassan (putting in a token single scene appearance) look on admiringly. This particularly nasty extended sequence essentially amounts to torture porn and its purpose in the film isn’t clear – all of which makes it increasingly difficult to sympathise with its lead.
Malachi attempts to inject some suspense in the latter half by inter-cutting three different sub-plots – Alfie stalking a new victim (Tamer Hassan’s squeaky-voiced son, Taser), Maya getting her drink spiked by the boy (Hugh Rose) she has a crush on at her birthday party, and Alfie’s supposed friend and colleague Connor (Emmett J Scanlan) attempting to seduce Catherine – but none of them really go anywhere and any semblance of tension quickly drains away.
On top of that, the film raises some potentially interesting ideas, only to largely ignore them, most notably the suggestion that Maya might share her father’s proclivity for violence, something that is obviously a source of tension between Alfie and Catherine. The tone is frustratingly po-faced and serious throughout, when a spot of knowing humour might have actually livened things up a bit.
As for the performances, Fairbrass handles himself well enough with the hard man stuff, but he has zero chemistry with Grant (who gives an unsettling performance full of weird stares), so their relationship fails to convince, while Cosmo is disappointingly restrained, considering his character is so obviously insane.
It’s a shame, as there are glimmers of wit and invention in some of Breakdown’s smaller details, but they’re drowned out by a nonsensical script, dull direction and flat acting.
Breakdown is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, as part of a £11.99 NOW Cinema Membership subscription – with a 7-day free trial.