Stars: Steven Seagal, DMX and Johnny Messner Director: James Cullen Bressack Distributor: 101 Films
“He’s the dirtiest cop I ever knew.”
Another day, another dollar, and another direct-to-video Steven Seagal film. Beyond the Law – not to be confused with the Cynthia Rothrock film of the same name – is probably Seagal’s best in the last decade or so. Reduced to a supporting role, which is becoming more familiar, Seagal is in a slightly villainous role, with Johnny Messner taking up the spotlight as the protagonist.
Messner lives ruggedly as Frank Wilson, a washed-up ex-cop, whose life degrades further when his addict son is killed at the hands of Desmond Packard, a hothead gangster, whose father is none other than Seagal’s Adair. DMX – bang in the middle – is Detective Ray Munce, a cop with his fingers in the pies on both sides of the law. Naturally, Wilson fights to avenge his son and take out the trash, thus progressing Beyond the Law as a fully-fledged revenge drama.
Messner’s Wilson brings to the table a slight vigilante trope, which we’ve all seen before, but do love. Not just an ex-cop, but a dirty ex-cop, Wilson has a reputation among select bad guys who are fortunate enough to know not to f*ck with this guy, but unfortunately for Packard, he doesn’t know whose son he’s just murdered. Rather than just killing the target on first meet, Wilson makes his presence known among Packard and his entourage. He wants them to know who he is. He wants them to know they’re going to die. He wants them to know who’s going to kill them.
Though Seagal’s presence is limited, his importance clearly overrides that – and yes, a handful of the classic moves are thrown about when necessary. His role of duel importance – a legitimate businessman and disapproving father – enables the ability to establish a character rarely seen by Seagal. It is refreshing to see. As a protective and loyal figure within Beyond the Law, Seagal’s Adair is seen to share similar traits to that of Messner’s Wilson. Though minimally comedic at times – a result of the continual smoking of a cigar in every other scene – the role of Adair has not only brought a freshness to Seagal’s catalogue of characters, but has provoked his best acting in years too.
Ultimately, James Cullen Bressack’s Beyond the Law goes beyond its presumably low expectations as a direct-to-video film, because it removes itself from existing as an all-out action film. Instead, acting substantially more as a crime drama, more layers to this film are present, as there is a considerable lack of nonsensical wallpaper action. The action sequences which do take place are gritty, violent and meaningful – they have purpose, but mostly in the guises of revenge and honour. In the world depicted within this film, the only way in which Wilson can find justice for his son’s murder, is if he goes… beyond the law.
As far as the DVD package goes, 101 Films have put together a neat grouping of artwork, much superior to the US Blu-ray design and poster on IMDb. The bonus features, however, are lacking, but in this realm of cinema, only the film itself is a sought after attraction. As one of the best UK distributors, 101 Films have done an excellent job in bringing a fine low-budget gem to the market.
Beyond the Law is currently available in all good DVD/Blu-ray stores.
This article’s featured image: By Source, 101 Films, Fair Use https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beyond-Law-DVD-Johnny-Messner/dp/B07ZWBPM22/