For Your Consideration: Revenge Films

For Your Consideration is a list based series that looks at genres, directors, actors or anything that takes my fancy really.  I’m not trying to make definitive best of lists just some films that I think are interesting with regards to a particular theme.

Revenge films are a classic staple of cinema and indeed of storytelling.  There are few things that capture the imagination better than a tale of people driven to extremes in order to avenge a wrong.  The 5 revenge films I’ve listed here are for me particularly potent examples of this type of film and if they are linked in any way it is that they, with the exception of one, are about normal people driven to extraordinarily transgressive behaviour by tragedy.  All 5 films are excellent and several of them have not received the attention they really deserve.

5. 44 Inch Chest (2009, UK)

This cracking masterclass in ensemble acting received a bit of a critical kicking on release in 2009.  Due to being marketed, somewhat misleadingly, as a cockney gangster thriller this film never really found the right audience.  It is in fact a superb meditation on revenge, masculinity and guilt that is performed with gusto by all the cast.  One reading of the film, which I think gives the film a significant depth, is that the characters are all manifestations of Colin’s (Ray Winstone) personality and the debates and dialogue that take place occur in Colin’s mind as he is trying to work out what to do with his wife’s boyfriend and how to come to terms with his own reaction to it.

4. The King (2005, USA)

An astonishing film that absolutely pulled the rug out from under me on first viewing.  Another film that seems to have disappeared with very little fanfare or press on it’s initial release.  Gael Garcia Bernal is incredibly unsettling in this harrowing tale of a young man’s mission to connect with the father he never met (William Hurt also superb).  Without giving too much away the final act of this film is devastating.

3. Confessions (2010, Japan)

A wonderful new addition to the recent glut of new Asian revenge films and one that truly takes the genre to another level.  A complex moral maze that will surprise and challenge you at every turn.  Thankfully Confessions eschews the trend for sadistic, extended torture scenes and goes for a much more cerebral level of engagement with it’s audience.  Beautifully shot, the film plays like a dream and it’s leisurely paced soft focus world view disconnects us from reality whilst the challenging subject matter drags us screaming to Earth.  It is this dichotomy between form and content that give this film it’s real power and allow us to enjoy the ethical questions and challenges it presents us with.

2. Sympathy For Mr Vengeance (2002, South Korea)

The first (and for me the best) of Chan-wook Park’s vengeance trilogy.  Old Boy was the show stopper that grabbed everyone’s attention but for me it was, whilst excellent, a cartoon lacking subtlety and depth.  Sympathy For Mr Vengeance, on the other hand, is an incredibly complex, subtle and challenging piece of work.  The moral ambiguity of the film is what really makes it.  No one is bad in the film and everything is really just the result of bad luck and events getting out of control.  Good or at least ‘normal’ people are driven to these events out of bad luck and tragic events.  The violence is horrific but it doesn’t feel gratuitous or sadistic in the same way it can in some Asian revenge films (Old Boy, I Saw The Devil) it merely acts as a signifier of the depth of feeling that these characters have about the tragic events around them.  One of this films many masterstrokes is the use of colour and the way the film gradually desaturates throughout so that by the end we are left with a palette that is made up of shades of grey much like the moral mindfield we have just negotiated.  An incredibly well crafted and challenging masterpiece.

1. Dead Man’s Shoes

Shane Meadows sublime Dead Man’s Shoes is unique in it’s portrayal of revenge.  Firstly we spend the majority of our time with the ‘victims’ rather than the revenge seeker and you know what? They are on the whole nice guys.  Yes their leader is a bully and they are petty small time thugs but the more time we spend with them larking about the more we come to sympathise with them.  Paddy Considine is a powerhouse as Richard the ex-squaddie returned home to avenge the mistreatment of his mentally challenged younger brother.  It is his unrelenting, seemingly excessive pursuit of his brothers tormentors that makes this film so unsettling and adds to the unique nature of Dead Man’s Shoes.  It is not until the revelation of the final act that we realise the full reasons for the depth of Richard’s drive for revenge and what has turned him into this avenging demon.  Outstanding.