The most striking thing about this second feature from director Andrea Di Stefano is that it is extremely violent, pretty sadistic and employs an awful lot of gunplay.
Based originally on a Swedish crime novel, its British producer transferred the action to New York in order to entice an American co-producer and presumably audience. It has declared ambitions to emulate the work of the late Sydney Lumet. But somewhere along the line someone, perhaps the director, who had a hand in the final screenplay, turned into a guns and torture bloodbath.
It is though a promising if somewhat overcomplicated story. Pete Koslow (Joel Kinnaman), a veteran special operations soldier and ex-convict, is recruited by the FBI to infiltrate a powerful Polish Mafia drugs cartel. When the operation all goes horribly wrong, resulting in the murder of an undercover NYPD cop, Pete is abandoned by his FBI bosses and finds himself in jail fighting for his life and for the safety of his wife and child on the outside.
The complicated set up of the story means the film takes a while to establish its characters and for them to involve us in the action. The scenes of Pete in prison are though horribly gripping in their brutality. The main villains of the piece are the dishonourable FBI, in the person of Rosamund Pyke as Pete’s controller Erica Wilcox and Clive Owen as her boss. Pyke is the most interesting character in the film, conflicted as she is about being forced to break the promises she has made to her agent, but Owen has a very one dimensional role, which requires him to do little but look cold and ruthless.
At the centre of the film Kinneman, who played the title role in the remake of Robocop, looks pretty dour throughout and takes more physical punishment than any normal mortal could possibly endure. The man is indestructible. He also gives as good as he gets, including a particularly nasty sequence involving a metal implement and a man’s ear.
There’s a good performance from rapper and actor Common as the NYPD officer determined to get to the bottom of his colleague’s murder and an appealing one from Ana de Armas as Pete’s wife. All the actors though appear to be fighting to get their characters across the audience, while in competition with what is an almost impenetrable wall of sweaty, macho, tattooed violence, sadism and gunplay.