Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The Butcher


Written & Directed by: Jesse Johnson
Starring: Eric Roberts, Keith David, Bokeem Woodbine, Irina Bjorkland, Geoffrey Lewis

Merle “The Butcher” Hench (Roberts) is an enforcer for the mob. Not exactly long in the tooth but no spring chicken either, he seems to be going a little soft in his older age. So much so, crime boss Murdoch (Davi) recommends Merle think about retiring and letting the young guns take over the heavy stuff. Having been in the business a long time and been around the block once or twice, Merle instinctively knows leaving the “business” isn't that easy. When Murdoch sets Merle up to take the fall for him ripping of another crime boss, Merle figures its time to get out and get out for good. But not before he’s dished out some vengeance fuelled pain and taken a little money kick back for himself.

Mean and muscled up pulp doesn’t come much more hard boiled than The Butcher, a cracking gangster flick about tough guys being tough. The set up may be familiar but the execution is given a refreshing overhaul and mucho pumped action courtesy of writer/director Jesse Johnson (Pit Fighter, Charlie Valentine) and star Eric Roberts. Johnson has crafted a pumped up, hardboiled gem which has just as much emotional punch as shotgun blast. We may be walking through a pulp fiction world but the characters are given real emotion, making them much more than goomba stereotypes. The dialogue is also pin sharp, flowing freely from the noir infused mouths of the characters. Johnson wisely focuses on character, building up the relationships and their complications, us the viewer getting to know Merle Hench before the inevitable outburst of sustained violence. And that emotional punch? Well that's courtesy of Eric Roberts in one of his best roles in years, showing he’s still got acting chops to burn. No doubt his Merle Hench is a tough guy who has seen and done bad things but Roberts superbly portrays him as a real man, reaching a turning point in his life, but still capable of dishing out extreme violence. It’s great to see Roberts, an always underrated actor, bite into a meaty role and there is excellent support from a who's who of yesteryear action cinema: Robert Davi, Michael Ironside, Keith David, Geoffrey Lewis and Jerry Trimble.

While the film takes time to build to the action (don’t go in thinking this is a blood soaked shoot ‘em up from the get go) it’s worth the wait. After all the tension mounted, character established, Johnson caps his flick with an almighty orgy of gunplay violence as Merle takes on and takes out Murdoch’s gang in several shell expending, automatic fire powered action scenes. Brutal in the their squibtastic and limb severing force, there is nothing fancy about these scenes but they sure are thrilling. Tough guys going at one another with shotguns and pistols and blowing seven shades of shit out of themselves and everyone around them. Sure a suspension of disbelief is needed, not least at the amount of shells fired and Roberts brandishing a massive machine gun circa WW2 in one scene but the choreography is tight and the emotional pay off sustained as we feel every bullet fly and hit. Great action by a director who knows how do orchestrate the stuff.

Overall, The Butcher is a great slice of pulp action cinema. Great characters, dialogue and action all combine for a bloodthirsty tale of vengeance. Some may be put off by the tough guy swagger and overly pulpy tones but they would be missing out on a quality slice of tough guy action movie making.

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