'The Heavy' Is Much Lighter Than It Wants to Be

An ex-con struggles to free himself from a tangled web of deception that includes criminals, politicians -- and his own family.

The Heavy

Director: Marcus Warren
Cast: Gary Stretch, Vinnie Jones, Shannyn Sossamon, Stephen Rea, Christopher Lee, Adrian Paul
Distributor: Lionsgate
Rated: R
Release date: 2010-12-21

Deep conflict between brothers is as the heart of Marcus Warren’s directorial debut, The Heavy. One brother, Mitchell “Boots” Mason, played by former boxer Gary Stretch, who was once the poster boy for British boxing, is an ex-con. The other, Christian (Adrian Paul of Highlander fame) is an up and coming young politician with eyes on becoming the Prime Minister in the not so distant future. It was also his testimony that sent Boots to prison for seven years.

Boots works as a collector and general enforcer for Anawalt (Stephen Rea), a local crime boss masquerading as a legitimate West End businessman. Despite his line of work, Boots has principles. Debt collection is one thing, and he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty if the job requires it, but he’s not a hitman, until Anawalt forces his hand, and puts Boots in a situation he can’t escape without murder. Boots is understandably pissed-off, but Anawalt promises that after one last mysterious job, Boots will be free of his debts and be allowed to walk away free and clear.

The one-last-job tactic is completely unnecessary. Everything would have proceeded just fine without it, and this choice feels like the cliché it is. But the last job sends Boots to Claire’s (Shannyn Sossamon) apartment for reasons that are gradually revealed as the movie unfolds.

Warren, who also wrote The Heavy, tells the story in a non-linear fashion, jumping back and forth between the beginning, middle, and end of the story. You get the effect he is going for, trying to maintain an air of mystery and tension, but it doesn’t work. Instead of keeping you intrigued and glued to the screen, the device is clumsy and awkwardly handled. The storyline with Boots and Anawalt plays out along side the moments with Claire and Christian, and none of it is fully developed. At first you think the stuff with Claire is a flashback, but it isn’t, and by the time you start to figure out all of the threads relate to one another, most of the movie has passed you by. Warren should have simply picked a single thread and stuck with it. The film works best when exploring the troubled dynamic between Boots and Christian. By focusing on one strand, The Heavy could have been a solid movie, instead of a needlessly complex, unfocused mess.

The DVD is clearly marketed as an action movie, but The Heavy falls more into the crime drama category. Despite a climactic action scene, the action is pretty low-key. At times the film is in danger of turning into a knock off of Snatch, or Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, due to moments where the camera spins wildly and the pace of the editing picks up to match the techno score by legendary trance DJ Paul Oakenfold. Thankfully these manic episodes are brief and the film settles back down quickly.

Stretch is a passable badass, with a flattened fighters’ nose and the world-weary face of a convict, though at this stage of his career he may better suited to secondary tough guy roles. He never commands the entire screen like someone carrying a movie needs to. Vinnie Jones, who looks horrible with a goatee, does a nice turn, doing what he does best, being intimidating as hell. This time around he’s a rogue cop out for revenge against Boots. Paul, in a non-heroic role for a change, is solid as the politician brother who never reveals his true motives, but the rest of the cast is either subpar or misused. Sossyman is wooden as Claire, and you spend most of your time trying to figure out why she’s even there, which you figure out long before the film reveals it. Christopher Lee, as Boots and Christian’s father, and Rea, are criminally underused. What's the point of having such high-caliber actors if all you’re going to do is give them a few generic lines and leave it at that?

The Heavy has a few shining moments, mixed with some degree of promise, but at the end of the day you’ll walk away from this unfulfilled, thinking of all the places where it went wrong when it could have gone right. The ultimate problem, aside from the unfortunate narrative structure, is that there is no follow through. Things are set up early that never come back. Boots’ daughter died while he was in prison, which is supposed to drive him, but that motivation evaporates. At one point he is hung from the rafters by dog collar by a guy he roughed up, but it ends at that without even a thought of revenge. Everything in the film seems to build towards something without ever coming to fruition. Okay, the ending is fairly satisfying, but while you can appreciate it for what it is, it is too little, too late, and can’t save The Heavy.

This DVD release is a little weird. Lionsgate had the disc set to hit the streets 21 December 2010, but it already came out back in April. Maybe that was a limited release, or a special edition, who knows? The bonus material includes a trio of behind the scenes features, which range from three- to five-minutes. One covers a range of topics from stunts, production design, and scripting, another is made up of cast and crew interviews, while the last is a montage of extra footage set to the score. Beyond these, the DVD has a collection of stills, trailers, and TV spots. None of it is particularly interesting.


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