International crime rings and drug gangs are the target for a group of paid hit-men and general tough nuts, former soldiers who seek fortune through pain and punishment under the auspices of their wealthy leader. But the consequences and risks of their job are manifold as one of their number discovers that he cannot make the necessary detachment between personal life and criminal activities. Writer/ director Jonnie Malachi’s Breakdown takes elements of the British gangster film but places it in a wider context which makes for action entertainment that tries to offer a different perspective on a familiar genre.
Alfie Jennings (Craig Fairbrass) is a happily married man who lives in his comfortable house with wife Catherine (Olivia Grant) and daughter Maya (Amanda Wass), who is approaching her 16th birthday with hopes of lots of presents and a party without her parents’ presence. Although she’d be very glad if the cute boy she fancied made an appearance too. Alfie has recently been experiencing horrendous, graphic hallucinations of torture, execution and even the decomposed deceased. These events can happen anywhere and at any time and, what is more, the animated cadavers and eviscerated, tortured bodies are all familiar to him, for Alfie was responsible for the means by which they reached their ghastly demise. Alfie works for an organisation called the Homefront, led by stately home owner Albert Chapman (James Cosmo). Their job is to accept vast sums of money in exchange for instigating brutal acts of violence on behalf of rich clients; deeds carried out in the most horrendously inhumane of manners, through threats, intimidation, torture and execution. Soon it becomes clear that Alfie’s random psychological condition cannot be concealed from his gang when, whilst savagely torturing a Turkish drug baron in front of his boss and a Homefront client, Alfie experiences hallucinations that cause him to fail at his butchery. This causes deep unrest and Alfie is given further jobs to prove his loyalty and worth. It is clear that he is suffering psychologically and he decides he wants out, but can he prove his worth, make a clean break and ensure that his beloved family are safe from the brutal criminal activities of the Homefront, an organisation for which he had always been a vicious and unsympathetic instigator?
Breakdown delivers everything that would be expected from a British crime drama – tough hero, action, violence, occasional torture – but it also attempts to offer an alternative view of the genre. While its plot doesn’t provide any great surprises – killer wants to be released from his contract, boss won’t allow it, much violence ensues – and the action is by the book, Malachi develops his lead character beyond the expected tropes of a ruthless contract killer. We see Alfie’s sensitive side – a devoted family man whose wife is aware of the work he undertakes. As a father who cares deeply for his daughter’s welfare, he teaches her to use a gun and to hunt (although she isn’t aware of his job, she is aware that one day she may have to protect herself from a savage world). We are shown the symptoms of his psychological breakdown in bursts of shocking imagery as he temporarily descends into brief moments of insanity, flashes of conscience following a career of violence. While Breakdown is not perhaps the most thrilling of thrillers, it tries to address issues that are often not considered in this particular genre and that is refreshing.