Hit man Joe King (Rick Kain) opens “The Henchman’s War” with a bang — three of them, actually — as he begins his crusade against former associates. (Skyrocket Productions)

Years from now, writer-director Anthony Greene’s brooding vengeance thriller “The Henchman’s War” probably will be repackaged and sold to mainstream audiences as a vehicle tailored for Mark Wahlberg or Jason Statham. That’s not an insult. It’s merely an acknowledgment that when those action mavens seek existing material that speaks to their hard-hitting sensibilities, “The Henchman’s War” is what they usually have in mind.

Greene certainly opens his picture with a visceral shock. Hit man Joe King (Rick Kain) stands over his latest victims, whom he has capped in a quiet suburban home. King strolls to the curb and promptly puts a bullet in the forehead of the colleague who’s supposed to be driving their getaway car.

Three dead before the title card even appears. Talk about setting the table for a memorable take-no-prisoners tale. And the body count only climbs.

Joe is a textbook silent-but-violent goon who spent years flexing muscle for mid-level kingpin Tony “Cubby” Wagner (Robert Leembruggen). Mysterious circumstances, though, send this morose thug on a rampage against his employer. Allies are enemies now, and Joe quickly realizes he can trust no one.

Greene, a native Washingtonian with a handful of local directorial and co-producing credits on his résumé, has an eye for urban grit and an ear for tough-guy dialogue. He makes excellent use of his shadowy locations, lending “War” the coveted visual grime that enhances such pulp-noir material. And at 80 minutes, the compact film is able to maintain a laser focus on its bare-bones, bare-knuckle crime story.

Back to Wahlberg for a second. “The Henchman’s War” reminded me, in tone and construct, of the A-list actor’s 2008 adaptation of the coarse video game “Max Payne,” also about a lone-wolf protagonist engaged in a blood-splattered mission of vengeance. However, Greene’s film stands out by weaving a far more compelling drama on what looks like half the budget.

“War” reminds us that “economic” doesn’t have to mean “cheap.” “Indie” doesn’t have to mean “amateur” and “gangster” doesn’t have to rely on tired cliches.

O’Connell is a freelance writer.


Unrated. At West End Cinema. Contains
profanity, graphic violence and adult situations. 80 minutes.