Starring: Nicolas Cage, Rachel Nichols, Peter Stormare
Director: Paco Cabezas
“This could get dirty!” Oh yes indeed it could. Hair bootblacked and carrying a few extra pounds, Nicolas Cage plays Paul Maguire, a doting dad with a shady past who reverts to type when his daughter is kidnapped in mysterious circumstances. Assuming that someone is trying to settle a score, he turns for assistance to a couple of mobbed-up buddies, and the results are surprisingly noirish and violent. Did that guy really just tie a breeze block to a girl’s neck with a length of rope and then toss it out a window? Oh yes he did!
Petty soon the Russian Mafia are after Maguire – the Tokarev of the title is a kind of Russian pistol – and our hero is wading through heavily tattooed bodies, shooting first and asking questions later, or not at all. His old Mafia boss (Peter Stormare), his wife (Rachel Nichols) and a concerned cop (Danny Glover) warn him to stop before it’s too late, but the tug of vengeance is too great. Early on, it feels like you know where this is going, but credit to director Paco Cabezas and screenwriters Jim Agnew and Sean Keller, they take the story to a very dark place, one that is decidedly edgier, more paranoid and less self-righteous than your average geriactioner.
Throughout, Cage is on comparatively subdued and measured form, sliding convincingly from lecturing his daughter about doing her homework to beating confessions out of bullet-riddled thugs. Bearing in mind he’s not getting any younger, he handles himself surprisingly well in the fight scenes – his character is an expert with knives – and stays cool and crisp in-between. Some viewers might find Cabezas’ pacing and visuals a bit too low key and TV movieish, but it’s an approach that has its virtues; the violence is presented matter-of-factly, and plenty of space and time is allowed for the consequences of the characters’ actions to sink in. There’s a decent supporting cast as well, with memorable turns from Max Ryan and Michael McGrady as Macguires’s buddies: the sight of them beating seven bells out of hoodlums half their age is one of the pleasures of the film. Tokarev won’t win any awards for originality, at least not for its early sections, but throw in an old-school car chase, and you have a revenge thriller that struggles free of some initially clichéd characterization to become unexpectedly thoughtful and on the whole pretty high-calibre.