The Big Ugly is a fascinating beast. While the premise of the film sounds annoyingly trite, writer-director Scott Wiper develops an engaging batch of characters. Neelyn could’ve been another internally dejected hitman with bolder aspirations brewing beneath the surface, and to some extent, he is. With that said, Jones radiates a scarily striking gaze and a cautious, flinty mien that is hiding a more vulnerable side of the character, though we don’t see enough of that side to deeply understand where he’s coming from.
Nevertheless, Vinnie Jones delivers an exceptional performance as Neelyn, wholly enlivening the character’s ultimate purpose during a shadowy sequence at a murky construction site. Nicholas Braun and Leven Rambin convincingly play Will and Kara, a couple at odds with Junior’s unabated rage, and they retain likability even after succumbing to their violent urges. The lily-livered Will is employed as Junior’s personal supervisor, and it’s only a matter of time before he unravels. Although it isn’t surprising to see Will’s development, it’s gripping nonetheless, courtesy of Braun’s captivating performance.
Perlman’s Preston is a modestly menacing presence, but he still upholds a veneer of conviviality and professionalism (don’t cross him, and you’ll be fine). The trailer would’ve had you believe that he was a clear-cut villain, but he has layers like anybody. Preston unconditionally loves his unruly son, which could potentially lead to more problems and questions. It’s often said that a parent loves their child, unreservedly, but should they protect them from the ramifications of their actions?
“Vinnie Jones delivers an exceptional performance…”
Neelyn’s journey for retaliation isn’t any more virtuous. But at times, it’s treated airily, and other times it’s treated solemnly, thus complicating the tone. There’s also the gentle discourse on loyalty, as Neelyn is compelled to disobey Harris for personal matters, but that thread doesn’t yield any stirring results.
From the fringes of grimy bars, sprawling construction sites, and ancient woodlands, The Big Ugly fully exploits its West Virginia setting. Paired with Jeremy Osbern’s graceful cinematography (unfussy long shots and great use of space) and Alex Heffes’s throbbing score, the experience is all the richer. One of the best scenes in the film happens inside an office trailer, where Will declares his love for Kara to a devilishly wily Junior. The scene brims with tension, as the restricted lighting and tight framing of the fraught interaction are palpable.
The Big Ugly feels divertingly old-school. Admittedly, the pieces fall into place a bit too conveniently, yet the skilled cast and the meaty script vivify Neelyn’s quest for vengeance. While the dialogue is occasionally stilted, and the motives of the characters don’t hold nearly as much gravity as they should, Scott Wiper has helmed a bracingly attractive thriller with ugly consequences. It’s everything you want in a revenge-action flick, but with appealingly hammy weight.
"…fully exploits its West Virginia setting."