Low level thug, Mitchell Parker (Nick Rendell), finds himself in one hell of a bloody pinch after unknowingly jacking one hundred thousand of ruthless gang boss Curtis Boswell’s pillages. Upon discovering who actually owns the bundle, Mitch is bearing witness to one of his crime partners being brutally tortured by the hands of Boswell (Victor Thorn). The bloodied boss sends Mitch to the location of the junkie (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) who he had just recently slain to retrieve the absent cash.
Little does Mitch know that he was recorded on the dead man’s phone shoveling the funds into a bag. When one of Boswell’s henchmen takes the phone and browses through the videos–Mitch is thrust in a gory manhunt with his head as the target. His only course of action is to find redemption one way or the other…or die trying.
Writer/Director Darren Ward’s A Day of Violence sees the filmmaker’s long awaited return to the kinetic action that sent exploitation fan circles abuzz with 1996’s Sudden Fury. Revisiting that film for the purpose of this review, both hardboiled action pieces share many parallels. Both star Rendell as a gang member who’s the victim of a raw deal fighting for his life against a head baddie played by Thorn. Each has a partner of Rendell being tortured to death by Thorn. Genre legends David Warbeck and Giovanni Lombardo Radice have small roles early in each respective feature with both meeting their makers. And of course, Sudden Fury and A Day of Violence are laded with spashly, sudden spats of gushing violence.
There’s also growth in Ward as a filmmaker evident in A Day of Violence. At 103 minutes, Sudden Fury runs top heavy with much of the laborious talk falling to the wayside. Ward takes a chainsaw to this clunky runaround and accomplishes the same effect with his latest at a tidy 91 minutes. There’s no need to rewind after not quite catching all the logistics of what beefs these murderous English toughs harbor. That’s really the most pleasing new aspect for those familiar with the prior film. While not being an explicit remake, Ward basically constructs a leaner, more palatable rendition of his ham sandwich-budgeted wonder Sudden Fury with stronger performances (although Warbeck’s delirium is worth the ticket alone), direction, photography, and narrative.
That last positive point becomes sticky. Some opinions of A Day of Violence have insisted that Ward’s attempt for Rendell’s Mitchell to seek redemption for his misspent life has no place in such purely exploitative filmmaking, but that’s simply shortsighted. Tremendous power can be reaped from making a corrupt character merely try to find some shred of salvation. The problem is this inclusion only makes Mitchell’s plight ever more apathetic for the viewer.
When the shit breaks loose and Mitchell is running like a wounded animal, he briefly visits the estranged mother of his daughter and pleads for her to take the money for an operation that could help his little girl. We then flashback to an incident in which an enemy of Mitchell broadsides his car and gravely injures his daughter who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This takes a certain degree of morality, but I immediately thought Mitchell was even more of scumbag for not pulling out of the game after witnessing his own daughter become collateral over his bullshit. It just shows the character as a big hunk of bloodthristy stupidity without one ounce of caring–even for his own family. This utter lack of sympathetic (or even understandably vengeful) characters is what hurts Ward’s film the most. Ugliness with no compass or code and no one to identify with. Well, maybe so if you’re leading a brutal life of crime, that is.
Another example can be seen by looking back to Sudden Fury again. At a certain point in that film, Rendell’s protagonist discovers a friend tortured to death and uses that as volatile fuel for metal-jacketed vengeance upon anyone in a fifty mile radius. In A Day of Violence, upon seeing his mate beaten to a bloated pulp and castrated, Mitchell realizes he’s in deep shit with a boss that shows no mercy upon wrongs done to him. The thing is, a man savagely died from Mitchell’s actions, but he doesn’t seem too distressed over this blood on his hands and only worried about his own dead ass.
But hey, I’m getting on a high horse. Ward knows how to stage exciting, hard-hitting action sequences. Rapid fire editing, smash cuts, and roving handheld shots are all stacked upon each other to create an exhilarating sense of being amidst the deadly gunplay. Bloody squibs gleefully explode as unfortunate bodies hit floors among showers of debris. Metal screws and kitchen knives get intimate with jugular veins. Garden shears say hello to testicles. The always unlucky Giovanni Lombardo Radice meets yet another grisly end. Will he ever catch a break?
It’s all in good fun and Ward strives for a form of unabashed entertainment that is all but non-existent nowadays; even with recent action films that claim to be “wild” and “politically incorrect”. The violence doesn’t meet the DIY heights of Sudden Fury, but A Day of A Violence is ultimately an interesting curiosity, despite some issues, from a filmmaker that deserves a larger sandbox for his rough ‘n tumble fantasies where the letting of blood is commonplace and hot lead the common denominator.
101 Films’s British R2/PAL DVD features a very nice progressively-encoded anamorphic widescreen transfer and clear Dolby stereo track. Extras include soft/hard trailers for the film and a twenty-three minute making-of featuring a good chunk of Radice’s lovable snobbery, effects wizardry, and some candid thoughts from Ward and cast.