By: John M Jerva
It really is a relief that the unfortunate news about action heavyweight Bruce Willis has finally seen the light of day and with it, hopefully all the hate and bashing on the one-time Hollywood A lister will finally subside. I’ll admit that before I found out that Willis was suffering from a neurological disorder, I immediately changed my way of thinking when watching one of his recent DTV outputs. If the movie is bad, then I will surely give it a negative review if it’s warranted in my opinion, but I won’t blame any of it on Willis as he was trying to do the best, he could with the time he had left to make movies.
Bruce has finally said goodbye to making movies and will instead focus on his health and this is truly the end of an era for action cinema and cinema in general as there will never be another one like John McClane in his prime. I am also suffering from a neurological disorder so I can relate to what Willis is going through as it really upends your life and changes you. It’s a hard-fought battle that I try to stay positive with and hopefully one day there will be a light at the end of the tunnel for myself and everyone that suffers from some sort of brain disorder.
Having said all that, I will now say that even before I was diagnosed with what is known as Functional Neurological Disorder, or FND for short, I have been known to enjoy many of Willis’ fast food style DTV action films. Some are downright bad (I’m talking to you Apex) but some are watchable and dare I say there are a select few that exceeded my expectations.
One of these films is the 2018 action-thriller Acts of Violence which hails from director Brett Donowho who is also known for producing the DTV action pic Blackjacks AKA SEAL Patrol. I know that’s not the greatest of resumes, but Donowho has quite literally crafted what is probably one of the best, if not the best, Bruce Willis actioner of recent years. I bought the film when it first came out and have rewatched it several times since as I thoroughly enjoy the bleak nature of a family who must take the law into their own hands when one of their own is kidnapped.
What makes Acts of Violence stand out from the pack of Willis DTV movies is that Bruce really does show up here and gives a decent performance as Detective James Avery who has his hands full trying to take down a human trafficking ring that is operating out of Northeast Ohio including Cleveland. I will give the movie massive props as it is set in my hometown, so I was pleasantly surprised with that as not too many action films take place in Ohio.
Avery is pretty much jaded at this point as his hands are literally tied as he tries to wage war on the scum of society who preys on innocent girls, selling them into slavery. It doesn’t help that his captain Hemland, played by the great character actor Patrick St. Esprit of CBS’ SWAT, isn’t much help in trying to corral the bad guys.
Enter ex-special forces soldier Deklan (Cole Hauser) and his brothers Brandon (Shawn Ashmore) also a vet and Roman (Ashton Holmes). Roman is about to marry Mia (Melissa Bologna) and things are looking pretty good as life is as they want it to be. Deklan is fresh from serving and he is having some issues adjusting to the quieter life, but Brandon is happily married as well.
Unfortunately, when Mia is out celebrating at her Bachelorette party, she pisses off the wrong guys who happen to be a part of the trafficking ring run by ruthless Max Livingston (Mike Epps) and as a consequence, she is abducted with the threat of being sold off never to be seen again.
This doesn’t sit well with Deklan and his brothers so they tac up and jock up and decide to take matters into their own hands as the police offer very little help in finding Mia. Avery does what he can, but he knows he’s between a rock and a hard place, so he basically lets Deklan and his bros loose to find Mia and take down Max by doing what they do best, and that’s exterminate with extreme prejudice.
Acts of Violence isn’t the happiest of movies and I liked that about it as it reflects how life really is. Sometimes there isn’t the happy ending and we all must face the consequences of our actions. Sure, Deklan, Brandon and Roman are just in what they are doing but they are still breaking the law and in fact do suffer for what they do. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t do it again but so is life.
Like I said, Willis is pretty solid here as the jaded Detective and he even showcases some of that John McClane charm in many of the scenes. He even gets to get physical with an opening act raid being the highlight for him so if you want to see a little bit of the classic Willis then this film will satisfy that itch. This movie was probably filmed in 2017 as it was released in 2018 so maybe Willis was still functioning OK. At any rate, Willis gets ample opportunity to shine here and even has the best scene of the film which hits at the end.
The biggest strength of Acts of Violence is that Willis is surrounded by a strong supporting cast namely Cole Hauser who is one of my favorites in the industry. Hauser crushes roles like these and is always looking authentic when he’s playing a soldier or former soldier. He’s got the presence and the demeanor to pull it off and he elevates any film that he is involved in. He’s currently playing the awesome role of Rip Wheeler right now on Yellowstone and that character along with Deklan are my two favorites of his.
Hauser even turns in a somber and electrifying performance as a man who is looking for a new war to fight as he is made for fighting. He has some great lines with voiceovers at the beginning and end that really resonate with what a soldier really stands for and what they will do for family and their brothers standing on either side of them.
Shawn Ashmore, who can currently be seen on ABC’s hit cop show The Rookie, is also solid per usual as ex- military man Brandon and even though actor Ashton Holmes looks like he should be in a boy band at first glance, he still delivers a fine performance as well as Roman. Melissa Bologna is also a standout as Mia, and she handles the difficult scenes that she is in just fine and even demonstrates that she is no damsel in distress as she knows a thing or two from her future brothers-in-law.
We also have Sophia Bush, best known for playing on Chicago PD, who plays Avery’s partner Detective Brooke Baker. Bush is proof positive that size doesn’t matter as she is as tough as they come. Bush also is able to inject a little bit of her persona and swagger from Chicago PD and is able to make the most out of her limited screen time.
Mike Epps does his job well here as he plays the stain on society that is also known as Max. This is the kind of character that has not one shred of redeeming value whatsoever as he is the vilest as they come. Max basically looks at these poor girls as objects and a means to make money and even in one disturbing scene, he sets one poor victim on fire with a smile on his face. Yeah, he’s one that you want to see get his before the credits roll.
Even though this is a lower budgeted DTV affair there is still enough tactical action to satisfy genre fans. Hauser and company unleash some pretty decent carnage on the perpetrators and there are ample gunbattles and violence to be had. It always makes me laugh when bad guys kidnap someone who is related to a bad ass spec ops warrior as you know they will live to regret it. Basically, if you’re going to abduct someone, make sure they do not have any siblings who know how to expertly and efficiently kill. There’s plenty of bullet riddled glee and even one scene has some cool use of slo-mo as Declan and the boys bust into one of Max’s lairs while they dispense massive amounts of ammunition. What’s not to like?
The finale is worth the price of admission alone as Deklan and crew must defend their home when it comes under siege by Max and his cronies. It’s a satisfying ordeal and one that gives Hauser, Ashmore and Holmes ample opportunity to dish out some retribution. Like I stated previously though, the movie doesn’t end perfectly, and some do not survive to see the sun come up. I applaud Donowho and the writers for not putting a bow on it all at the end.
I never understood all the hate for Acts of Violence as one can see that it stands at a whopping 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. Sure, it’s filled with a cliched plot and it’s an ugly movie by any means but Hauser, Willis and the rest of cast deliver solid performances and enough violent action for a Saturday night viewing. If you know that this is a DTV action flick, and you are still going to watch it then you pretty much know what these types of films offer. This is obviously not an Oscar worthy movie but come on, it still does what it’s supposed to do.
These latest entries in Willis’ filmography arsenal have been better as of late do to the fact that he starred alongside some decent actors like Hauser as well as Devon Sawa and Frank Grillo for example. They were able to pick up the slack for Bruce as he wasn’t on set for long and was more of an extended cameo. It’s a sad day because one of the finest is stepping down but we will have many great films to watch and remember how he was, and Willis will always be regarded as one of Hollywood’s top performers in any genre.
Overall, Acts of Violence is definitely one of the finer examples of Willis’ recent output of movies. He’s surrounded by a great cast including Cole Hauser and that is enough to warrant a watch from any serious action fan. Be warned though that it isn’t a happy movie but there is some resemblance of hope before it all ends. It’s violent and dirty and it’s always great to see the worst that society has to offer get their cummopence in the long run. Willis gets plenty of opportunities to give us a little bit of that old 80’s magic and that right there is enough to raise the rating on the movie. If you haven’t seen Acts of Violence, by all means, check it out.
Look out in the future, as I will be diving into more of Bruce Willis’ films in honor of the man that brought so much joy to my life. Future reviews will include A Day to Die, Cosmic Sin, Trauma Center and the upcoming Fortress: Sniper’s Eye to just name a few. I will also be doing retrospectives on his classic action movies like the Die Hard Franchise and The Last Boyscout. Willis is one of the last true movie stars and his steeping down is one of the saddest days in Tinseltown.
Take it easy Bruce and here’s hoping you will be able to enjoy your retirement. They’ll never be another one like you. Yippee Ki Yay MotherFucker!