Thomas Ian Nicholas … Ethan (as Thomas Nicholas)
Mickey Rourke … Kaden
Penelope Ann Miller … Nicole
Lou Diamond Phillips … Dr. Cruz
Sean Astin … Frankie
Kelly Arjen … Mia
Matt Ryan … Jake
Andrew Keegan … Jan
Written and directed by Brian Metcalf
Low-budget thrillers carry a certain charm. Sure, the technical aspects may not be up to par with most modern-day productions; and, yeah, the acting never rises beyond B-movie standards, but such traits only add to the flavor. If anything, these films serve as interesting exercises in the art of filmmaking on a micro-budget, where creativity, strong storytelling and smart directing go a long way.
So, it goes with Adverse, a very low budget crime drama that comes surprisingly close to capturing the spirit and style of the Michael Mann thrillers it clearly aspires to be. As directed by Brian Metcalf, Adverse digs deep to tell its tragic tale of revenge; and introduces a handful of fascinating characters who all get their moment to shine.
The story follows Ethan (Thomas Nicholas), a hard-working American who has had it up to here with society. His psychiatrist, played by Lou Diamond Phillips, says he’s angry; and we see that anger plastered all over Ethan’s face as he goes about his day-to-day activities, namely taking care of his druggie sister Mia (Kelly Arjen), confronting his a-hole boss Frankie (Sean Astin) and dealing with the loud and obtrusive customers who stumble into his car during endless late night Uber-like shifts.
Ethan’s predicament takes an even steeper dive when Mia and her boyfriend get wrapped up with a local drug kingpin named Kaden (Mickey Rourke) and wind up dead, forcing the angered sibling to seek out those responsible and exact bloody revenge-via-tire iron.
Sounds fairly rudimentary, right? Except, Metcalf, who also wrote the film, takes the time to really flesh out his characters, so much so that, cheesy acting be damned, we actually care about what happens to all of them by film’s end.
Indeed, the best scene arrives not with a wave of blood or violence, but via a quiet moment shared between Ethan and Kaden (molded after the famous coffee shop bit between Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in Heat) in which the world-weary drug dealer mournfully reflects on his past life as a kid yearning to play baseball.
“This is not how I planned my life to be,” Kaden says dejectedly.
Metcalf goes above and beyond the standard thriller and delivers a film that is, at its core, a study of broken characters undone by society, none of whom are right or wrong, just lost in a world they don’t understand. And while the execution of the story may leave you wanting —namely, the distracting jump cuts, bizarre line deliveries, unconvincing CGI blood and some silly plot contrivances — these central themes are strong enough to keep you invested in the story to the blood-spattered, Collateral-inspired end.
Performances are mostly good. Rourke, in particular, now years removed from his Oscar-nominated turn in The Wrestler, offers up some fine work as Kaden. While Nicholas, tasked with playing a character who quite literally wears his intensity on his sleeve, delivers a convincing, if not slightly overstated performance as Ethan. The sequence in which the character unleashes his wrath with all the fury of an Old Testament god on an entire building full of drug peddlers — shot in one extended take — with nothing but a tire iron is both shocking and enthralling. You cheer for justice but mourn for Ethan’s soul.
Now, this isn’t anything new. Revenge flicks are a dime a dozen. But the best of the lot, such as Death Wish and, more recently, John Wick, are able to compound meaning with madness. After all, who gives a damn about John Wick if his dog isn’t killed?
Thanks to Metcalf’s steady hand, Adverse rises above the typical crop and delivers an intimate look at society’s underbelly, a place filled with murderers and scoundrels who quietly lament the broken path they chose.