AVENGEMENT: Hard Hitting Gangster Film Shows Moral High Ground


In theaters and streaming NOW

Jessie V. Johnson has been collaborating with Scott Adkins for at least six films and we hope more is on the way.  Like the popularity of the John Wick franchise, we can’t get enough of the martial arts action and the good guy gone bad/bad guy turned good.

This film takes a refreshing deeper dive than most martial arts films into the “why”  good people do bad things, or how a person can be set upon a path of destruction,  In this case it’s not mindless destruction or violence for violence’s sake.

AVENGEMENT  stars Scott Adkins (ACCIDENT MAN/DOCTOR STRANGE), as Craig Burgess, a former boxer turned mean-looking, scarred prison inmate who has been granted a visit to the hospital to see his dying mother.  Unfortunately, he’s a bit too late, by the time he gets there mom has passed away.  He escapes his guards, and all hell breaks loose as he goes looking for the people who had him locked away – and when the trail shockingly leads back to his own family – pathos is replaced not just by the satisfaction of inflicting retributive punishment; but something greater, which is revealed at the end of the movie.

AVENGEMENT was directed by Jesse V. Johnson, from a screenplay he wrote with Stu Small. The film was produced by Ehud Bleiberg and Joe Karimi-Nik; and executive produced by Nicholas Donnermeyer and Scott Adkins.I asked Johnson about the making of the film and, working with Scott Adkins,

AMFM Magazine: I’d like to talk to you a little bit about your background is a stuntman and why you wrote AVENGEMENT

Jesse V. Johnson: You’re always looking for redemption of some types for these characters, In an action movie. you’re always having to come up with a reason why people have to put their guns down and hit each other. You know, I’m a middle aged man. I’ve never been in a fist fight, in my life – a real one where there’s aggression involved. So to create a scenario where this is valid and justified, and sometimes it’s worth reaching back.to your own past.

I had been making films with international settings. I live in the U.S. and I realized I hadn’t actually visited my background, which is London and the sort of rough and tumble characters that you find there.

Scott, who’s my lead actor I’ve worked with a couple of times. He was having a second child and didn’t want to leave the UK because he wanted to be close to his wife as she delivered. It forced me to look inside and come up with a scenario and a story that could be shot in the UK, then also allowed me to touch on my background a little bit, my past and knowledge. I’ve been here more of my adult life than I have in the UK, but you are the country that you were born in and spent your teenage years, no matter how many years you spend elsewhere.It’s imprinted  on you, so it was time to revisit and look at that. And it’s quite interesting. I was almost coming to it as a foreigner at this point in my life. Revisiting these characters and the laws and customs that  have changed in the UK.There are things that I had written, and people were like, “ah, yes, but it doesn’t actually happen like that anymore in England.”

It’s about the imprint of these characters and the way that they have a family or a district that they look after. It’s very, very English, but I felt there was a way of doing it that the international audience could comprehend. You can’t just take one of those English gangster movies and think it’s going to instantly be an international hit.  There’s certain of them are, but you know, people don’t enjoy them if they can’t understand them. My wife and kids are American and they look at a lot of subtitles in international films,  They don’t understand chatty bad guys who are going to be talking all the time because you think of tough men in the US as being very monosyllabic and quiet, whereas English tough guys will talk your ear off.

AMFM Magazine: Can you talk about Scott Adkins as a lead actor?

Jesse V. Johnson He’s, a pretty amazing, an amazing guy. Really, having Scott’s attachment is what Green lit the movie. I thought “What can we come up with Scott, and not repeat myself in any way.” So each film that I do with Scott is a very different film to the last one. And that’s very important to me. The characters we create (for each film) are very different, For me that’s important, not just to show his range, but also my range and what we can do together..The characters have to be validated, but they have to have a sense of grace, there has to be a sense of, of heart. These are very very dark characters, guys that had very little going for them. We learn round about midway through the film that they do have a conscience. There there has to be that sense, because I don’t like films about, through and through bad people -that’s of no interest to me.

Jesse V. Johnson: I love there has to be a sense of cathartic release. The characters grow  and expand and there’s a sense of right and wrong, a moral compass. Now they may have forced themselves to ignore it in the first of half of the movie, or somewhere round about the beginning of the third act or the end of the second act, they’re forced to reevaluate what it is they’re doing and have an attack of conscience – that’s important to me. I think just there’s too many movies made about bleak characters.They’re just simply bad , or or want money,  or want revenge and I don’t care about any of those guys or even those movies particularly.. So with Scott, what we’re trying to do is create interesting characters.

We don’t get an awful lot of money to make these movies so we have to be very, very offensive and very smart in the way that we put them together and it’s a good challenge – It makes you rise to the challenge.

AMFM Magazine: \Well, that being said, I, I love the end of the movie, speaking of his character development, and what he really was about the entire time. We’re also as an audience not interested in bleak characters. There has to be a real reason for evil, I don’t believe in evil for evil’s sake. We want to know why these characters do what they do.

Jesse V. Johnson It’s a horrible thing. About half these movies are about revenge. That human who chooses to go on that mission is really giving up everything. He’s given up everything from nice meals with friends and family, everything goes out the window in search of this so called bad guy they are hunting down. That’s an enormous thing to ask the audience to go along with because in real life it isn’t very true. In real life, there are very few instances of this kind of revenge that we so take for granted in movies because it is soul destroying.  I think it is worth noting that the reason that his character could have this revenge is because he was isolated in prison. It was something that he couldn’t avoid, because it was there every single day trying to kill him. Also, there’s the moral implication of what he had been a part of that he wants to fix.

It’s a very important thing to look at. You take these clichés of cinema that people  take for granted. You look a little closer and realize they are completely unrealistic. Like the car chase in the French film, they’re utterly unrealistic. But what’s happened is that over time, as it’s been repeated from film to film to film, we’ve come to trust that there’s a trope that is like real life, when in actual fact it’s nothing like real life at all

.So that was fun, to reevaluate that, to re-examine and see if there’s a way of combining elements of reality and fiction and make it something interesting to watch.

AMFM Magazine: I have to tell you that by the release at the very end of the movie, you did a very good job. I didn’t see that coming. (NO SPOILERS!) Too often, movies do talk down to their audiences and force feed redemption and the like, but your ending was a total surprise. So thank you for that.

Director/Writer Jessie V. Johnson (middle)

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