If you want to see one of the best action/drama movies of 2018, then skip the big budget movies and go right to Amazon and order a DVD copy of The Debt Collector. This movie does it right on so many levels.
The Debt Collector, written by Jesse. V. Johnson (Savage Dog) and Stu Small (Accident Man) and directed by Jesse V. Johnson (Accident Man), is the kind of action/drama movie that rarely comes along these days. The kind that shines with great dynamics between the two male leads: Scott Adkins (Accident Man, Boyka: Undisputed) and Louis Mandylor (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) that harkens back to the days of gritty westerns and crime dramas where two men of diverse backgrounds find themselves working together in a shady job for a common reason: to make money.
French (Adkins) is a classically trained martial artist from the UK who had come to Los Angeles to open up his own Dojo to teach from. Like the homesteaders of the past, French had come west to stake his claim and it was now in danger of it being taken from him if he can’t come up with the money to pay the bills. Every good western and/or crime drama has that one man who has fallen from grace. In The Debt Collector, that man is Sue (Mandylor), an alcoholic with a past full of pain and grief. Of course, what would any movie of this kind worth its salt be without a magnificent beast in which to convey the characters around. In The Debt Collector it is Sue’s classic mid ’70’s Cadillac Seville, that, like its own, is a relic from the past.
French and Sue are thrown together by a mob boss, to be low level enforces ie, debt collectors. They start out together with the intentions of doing their job and making the money they both need..Sue to buy more booze to drown out his past and French to save his Dojo. But as with all roads paved with good intentions, it begins to turn to hell the further they go down it.
Several things make The Debt Collector stand out and play out so well on many levels. The first of which is the writing and storytelling skills of Jesse V. Johnson and Stu Small. They imbue both French and Sue with strong character traits and interactions. Both men are flawed and have depth to them. Sue has a rough around the edges charm about him while still conveying an essence of resigned sadness. French is cool and diffident on the exterior, but you can see that there is a fire underneath that would be dangerous to stoke. The dialog is masculine without being macho, especially the bonding moments in the close confines of the car and it is well written to be both character revealing and layering. Johnson and Small create believable characters and settings. They use both of these things to create a smart story in which the moments of comedy and drama come across as natural, not forced or cheesy.
The second thing that makes The Debt Collector play out so well is the dynamic between Adkins and Mandylor. Both of these men grab ahold of their respective characters and bring the dialog and action to life. While Scott Adkins is mainly known for his cinematic martial arts fighting skills, which are on full display in this movie, as French he also shows his considerable skills as an actor. He can do deadpan without sounding wooden, he can do sarcastic without sounding clichéd. Scott Adkins gives French a wide range of facial expression and body language that tell as much about the character as the words do. Mandylor brings a larger than life essence to Sue without being over the top or cheesy. He is also a master of body language and a turn of phrase that shows the multilayers to his character. He makes us believe that Sue is both strong and vulnerable at the same time. Together, Adkins and Mandylor, who seem to bring out the best in each other as actors, create an unforgettable duo who form an unlikely friendship that’s the basis of all good westerns and crime dramas.
The addition of other well written characters and actors are also part of what makes the story in The Debt Collector flow. Tony Todd always brings a ‘smooth as silk and deadly as cobra’ air to any villain he plays. Michael Pare can do sleazy with the best of them.
The final element that makes The Debt Collector stand out above so many action movies of today is that you won’t find any CGI being used, especially in the fight scenes. As I stated above, Scott Adkins is a master of the cinematic fight scene. He, along with the fight choreographer Luke Lafontaine created realistic looking fight sequences that came across as gritty and hard hitting. Louis Mandylor is no stranger to cinematic fight scenes and added his own talents to Sue’s fight scenes, again looking realistic and brutal. The Debt Collector is what action movies should be instead of all the fake looking CGI and ‘cuts’.
My final thoughts in this review of The Debt Collector is concerning the use of some creative visuals that the writers chose to intersperse through out the story line. On one hand, I understand what Johnson and Small were trying do with them in an attempt to add to the psychological aspect of the movie. However, I really wish they had not tried to be so ‘artsy’ and had just stuck to creating more interaction between French and Sue. The addition of the scenes, to me, gave the impression that the writers didn’t have enough faith in their characters to convey the processes of the story. Nothing could be further from the truth…French and Sue, in the capable hands of Adkins and Mandylor, were doing a great job on their own.
The Debt Collector comes out on DVD on June 5th and my recommendation is that you don’t miss legally owning a copy of this movie. It’s well worth the money in my opinion.
8/10 Stars from Entertainment Zone!