The Art of the Revenge Film – MALESTROM at the Movies
A couple of weeks ago we here at The MALESTROM HQ brought you the best and worst shark movies. One of those films was Jaws the Revenge which sparked a debate between us guys in the office about the best revenge movies to grace the silver screen (Jaws the Revenge not being one of them). Notable mentions that didn’t make the cut this time include Carrie, Gladiator and the eye-watering Hard Candy. So here’s our hard fought out, non-definitive list of some of our favourite films about getting (usually bloody) vengeance. And remember what they say, revenge is a dish best served cold.
Dead Man’s Shoes (2004)
You wouldn’t want to be one of the gang members who’s messed with Paddy Considine’s little brother in this at times brutal revenge film from the brilliant British director Shane Meadows. Considine plays Richard, protective sibling to Anthony, who has learning difficulties. When he leaves to join the army his little bro gets mixed up with a gang of drug dealers who treat him abusively. Seven years later Richard returns from duty looking to avenge what his brother went through at the hands of these nasty characters and seeks them out one by one. It’s a smart and powerful take on the revenge flick that at times will have you squirming in your seat.
Hanna is an uber cool take on the traditional revenge thriller. Our character named in the title is a 15-year-old girl, played by Lady Bird’s Saoirse Ronan, who we first see hanging out with her father Erik in the snowy setting of Finland. But this is no ordinary family, Dad is an ex-CIA operative who’s been training his daughter from before she was out of nappies in the art of combat and how to be an assassin (not your normal home schooling). Erik holds a secret that senior CIA officer Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) doesn’t want getting out and she’s hell bent on finding him. So Hanna is sent off on a solo mission across Europe to get an audience with Mellisa, who happens to be the woman who killed her mother. You know when The Chemical Brother’s agree to soundtrack a film it’s probably going to be good and Hanna is just that. There’s never a dull moment with inventive action sequences and a stellar performance from Ronan who can switch from wide-eyed wonder to cold-blooded killer in an instant.
The Limey (1999)
As revenge movies go The Limey is a corker, mainly to do with a searing performance by the menacing Terence Stamp. He plays a cockney ex-convict named Wilson, who’s making the trip over to LA in order to avenge the death of his daughter by paying a visit to the record producer seemingly responsible (Peter Fonda). Or at least so it seems on the surface, one of the fascinating thing about Steven Soderbergh’s film is we never quite know what’s going on. With it’s jarring non-linear style we’re thrown between past and present and the dark thoughts that linger inside Wilson’s addled mind. But don’t let a troubled timeline put you off, this is a stylish revenge with a difference, and it’s all the more fascinating a film for it.
The Crow (1994)
One of the great cult revenge movies, The Crow is touched with tragedy due to the death of lead actor, Bruce’s son Brandon Lee, on set. He plays rock star Eric Draven, who on the eve of his wedding day is murdered along with his fiancée by a violent gang. But it turns out they killed the wrong musician as on the anniversary of their brutal deaths (which happens to be the ominously titled Devil’s Night), Eric rises from the grave and becomes the pasty faced supernatural stalker the Crow. Not someone to be messed with. This a dark fable of stylish vengeance that showed the screen presence and charisma of the late Brandon Lee, his get up also became the go-to outfit for 90s goths all over the globe.
Lady Snowblood (1973)
Many of you reading this list will feel there’s been a huge oversight in not including Kill Bill: Volume One in this list and while we acknowledge it’s a great film, it owes such a great debt to Lady Snowblood we thought we should give the lesser known title some love. This manga adaptation, revenge epic from director Toshiya Fujita sees the deadly Yuki seek to avenge her father & brother’s murder and mother’s rape by doing away with the men responsible. There’s plenty of limb lopping, blood letting and violent vengeance and Tarantino definitely owes the film a few drinks. Never has the phrase ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ been so relevant.
This 80s classic sees Winona Ryder star as Veronica, a high school girl who’s in with a clique of teen mean girls all named Heather. She’s secretly appalled by their nasty behaviour where they take pleasure in picking on others, but she keeps her opinions to herself, until that is she meets smooth talking, loner rebel J. D. (Christian Slater). With him leading the way she inadvertently finds herself in a murder plot where they off the Heathers and make it look like suicide. It’s a perfect dark fantasy about revenge that gets out of control, it was also a forerunner in ripping up the rules around teen movies with its pitch black humour and subversion of subject matters. The perfect picture for cynical, angst ridden teens everywhere.
Who knew that getting toward the twilight of his years Liam Neeson would become a huge action star? And although he wasn’t shy of an on screen dust up it was Taken that showed us what a bonafide badass he could be. Neeson plays Bryan Mills, a former government operative trying to re-integrate himself into the life of his daughter Kim. When he reluctantly consents for her to take a trip to Paris his worst fears are soon realised when Kim and her mate are kidnapped. A phone call from daughter to daddy during the time just before she got abducted gives him the clues he needs to come and find her and use, as he says to her captor the “Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.” So he heads off to find said hostage taker and kill him. It’s no surprise Taken has spawned two sequels, an ass kicking Liam Neeson exacting retribution for the wronged is a treat for the eyes and doesn’t get tired on repeat performances.
John Wick (2014)
It’s hard to leave Keanu Reeves’ likeable hitman off a list like this. The film, which could have had the alternative title You Killed The Wrong Guy’s Dog, was essentially a comeback movie for the actor (in terms of Box Office), it sees him play John Wick a former deadly hitman reeling from his wife’s death but living for the new puppy Daisy that his wife got him before she passed away. A run in with the Russian mob leads to the bad guys leaving Daisy pushing up the daisies and forcing Keanu to get his huge stash of ammo together before re-entering his old life and going after the gangsters who put away his pooch. Gritty, believable hand-to-hand combat is one element that sets John Wick apart, Keanu trained intensively in Judo and Jujitsu to up his fight game and it pays off on screen. You feel like he’s a realistic Angel of retribution, powered by bringing mercy to the men who got their mitts on his mutt. Dog lovers everywhere rejoice.
Point Blank (1967)
Point Blank stars Lee Marvin as Walker, a gangster left for dead on Alcatraz Island after a heist doesn’t go to plan and his partner and who he thought was his friend, Reese, shoots him and makes off with his money. To really rub it in Reese also has an affair with Walker’s wife. This turns out to be a bad mistake! Walker sets out on a mission of revenge and nothing is going to stop this guy. Marvin is like a relentless force, formed out of granite who kicks more than his fair amount of s**t throughout the movie. It might seem tame these days but in 1967 this was about as brutal as revenge movies got, and it is at times pretty vicious.
Leon: The Professional (1994)
This brilliant crime thriller from the mind of director Luc Beson sees Natalie Portman play Mathilda, a 12-year-old girl who is reluctantly taken in by neighbour Léon (Jean Reno), who happens to be a professional assassin, after her family is murdered in cold blood in a drugs operation led by dodgy cop Gary Oldman. The pair form what you might call an unusual relationship, as Mathilda becomes his protégée and learns the dark arts required to be an assassin so she can get retribution. The aforementioned Hanna draws parallels with this stylish and thrilling piece that utilises its violence in sometimes beautiful fashion. It was a star making turn for the excellent Portman and with Reno playing it cool as a cucumber, yet seriously deadly and a sadistic Oldman turning the crazy dial up past eleven, Leon: The Professional is a heady cocktail offering drama and delight in equal measures.
Last but by no means least is what in many ways may be the ultimate revenge movie, Oldboy. Director Park Chan-wook helms this violent tale of Oh Dae-Su (Choi Min-sik), an alcoholic businessman who finds himself whisked away, kidnapped and imprisoned in a cell for fifteen years for a crime he’s never told about. He’s released back into society again without explanation and faces a race against the clock to track down his daughter and discover who his captor is. With fifteen years of hard work outs behind him on his dumpling diet, Dae-Su is animalistic in his brutal beat downs, he’s a lone wolf looking for very final retribution. It’s brutal and can at times have you watching through your hands with some knee trembling torture scenes, but ultimately Oldboy is a perfectly crafted piece of work that took the revenge genre to new places of intensity.