7th May 2018 (UK DVD release)
A struggling mixed martial arts fighter finds himself in a fight for his life after his one night stand is found dead in her home.
Thomas Q. Jones, Isaach De Bankolé, Chuck Liddell
Having the title A Violent Man and sporting an angry red DVD box art depicting two fighters with their fists raised ready to rumble, you’d be forgiven for thinking Matthew Berkowitz’ second feature is a typically macho actioner. Refreshingly, it’s a far more dialogue driven drama than its marketing gives it credit for – although being this way brings its own problems too.
Aspiring cage fighter Ty (Thomas Q. Jones, a former NFL player and among the top 25 lead ‘rushers’ in NFL history) becomes an overnight sensation after a video of him defeating the previously unbeaten world champion Marco Reign (UFC legend Chuck Liddell) goes viral. It catches the attention of sports reporter Veronica who sees potential in covering his story.
Things take a dark turn when Ty becomes the prime suspect in a murder investigation that could end his fighting career, despite him maintaining his innocence. But if he didn’t commit the crime, who did?
Led by terrifyingly muscular Thomas Q. Jones, A Violent Man has much more in common with classic noir films than it does with contemporary fighting pictures such as Warrior or Kickboxer. Jones certainly looks the part but some questionable actions of his character make it tough to feel for his plight. He’s not easy to sympathise with thanks to dumb decisions in important moments; take for example the scene after he’s pleading with his girlfriend Whitney (Khalilah Joi) to forgive him after a previous mess up. When she rejects his rather feeble efforts to apologize, instead of heading to the nearest petrol station for a bunch of gasoline-smelling flowers like any other boyfriend would, Ty heads to a strip club to drown his sorrows and of course gets himself into more trouble.
This indecision of personality could have been deliberate, but Jones never fully commits his performance to either side of the fence, swinging from self-pitying (see: strip club above) to the egotistical alpha-male (Ty’s the one who contacts Veronica in the first place to gloat about his win). He’s perfectly acceptable at both but it would have been more impactful to have had him decide on one or the other.
The film doesn’t ever feel as urgent as the story requires either, with the pace remaining leisurely regardless of the unfolding criminal developments. In fact, the murder itself takes a seat in the corner for a large part of the second act with the film focusing more on Ty’s official match with Reign as well as his crumbling personal life.
While the fight scenes are sparse, they’re fantastically filmed. Director Matthew Birkowtiz revealed in an interview that he’s never filmed a fight scene before A Violent Man but he handles shooting the bouts like a veteran. This is probably helped by having a bona fide fighter in Liddell on camera who can actually do the MMA maneuvers, so in turn, can make them look as realistic as possible.
Surprisingly (and a little disappointingly for those thirsting for blood), the 18 age rating for the film doesn’t come from these sequences but from a lengthy sex scene that goes on a little too long and cuts the music halfway through. I’m no prude, and there’s certainly more explicit scenes of a similar nature that exist, but with no sound other than the grunts and moans of the two characters involved, I started to feel as uncomfortable with it as if I would if I was watching it with my parents.
If you’re looking for a film that packs the same punch as a first-round knockout, A Violent Man isn’t it. But if you’re more the kind to enjoy clashes that go the full 5 rounds and end in a TKO, it just might hit the mark.
An intriguing dialogue-driven drama
Well shot fight scenes
Lack of focus on the initial crime in the second act
Awkwardly long and music-free sex scene