Joe Begos’ throwback siege thriller VFWhas something for every well-meaning genre nerd to sink their teeth into. If you’re a fan of grimy ’80s action, there’s enough severed limbs and exploding heads to sate your palpable thirst for dirtbag blood. If you’re the tough-talking men of the classic era of ‘70s and ‘80s DTV and Grindhouse stars, you’ll find yourself genuinely pleased with this ensemble, featuring men like Stephen Lang, William Sadler, Martin Cove and Fred “The Hammer” Williamson as our leads, a group of vets whose VFW hangout comes under fire from a bunch of zombie-like junkies looking for a fix. If you like your exploitation raw, bloody, and deeply politically incorrect, you’ll probably dig this knowing that Dallas Sonnier, the man behind S. Craig Zahler’s rise to the top of the scumbag genre landscape, produced this film, which is to say that this is about as far away from a needle exchange that you can possibly get in this climate; advocating for the wholesale slaughter of the drug dealers behind our current opioid crisis. It is ferociously ugly and visceral, and it is one of the very best midnight movie experiences of 2019, one that’s dying to be seen in a packed house with hooting and hollering film freaks cheering each ridiculous development.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of Begos’ output — I hated Almost Human when I saw it years ago — but the director’s approach to the material and his usage of this incredible cast make VFW really stand out in comparison to the genre-tributes that litter the exploitation landscape today. This feels like it could easily co-exist on the shelf with any number of hate-fueled classics: Rolling Thunder, Assault on Precinct 13, and more, rather than merely paying tribute to them. It’s not pained or labored in its presentation; and the seeming effortlessness of its ensemble’s interactions only stresses its smart construction. There’s so much to love here, from the off-the-cuff banter about the changing nature of grooming standards over the years (David Patrick Kelly has a killer line about Moonraker tossed in there) to how well actors like Lang and Sadler articulate their suffering and struggles at adapting to a landscape that has totally forgotten and pigeonholed them into a small little corner of this rotting country, and it doesn’t pander or patronize any of its cast, including its younger members.
You can, perhaps, chalk this rave up to my deep-seated admiration for men like Lang and Williamson as hidden masters of the craft, and watching The Hammer beat the hell out of dudes with a makeshift set of brass knuckles crafted from nails is a thrill that I frankly wasn’t expecting out of any genre film this year. VFW is the real fucking deal.