Monday, April 7, 2014

My Top 10 Best Revenge Films

Looking for something to watch? How about a little vengeance? Here are my picks for the best 10 revenge films (in alphabetical order):

The Crow (1994)
Directed by Alex Proyas
Starring Brandon LeeErnie Hudson and Michael Wincott

"Little things used to mean so much to Shelly. I used to think they were kind of trivial. Believe me, nothing is trivial."

Based on James O'Barr's 1989 comic book series of the same name, Brandon Lee stars as musician Eric Draven, who is murdered along with his fiancée Shelly (who is also raped) on October 30 (Devil's Night), the eve of their wedding day, by a group of thugs during a seemingly random home invasion. Because of his anger and sorrow, Eric is given a second chance by a crow (believed to carry souls from this life to the afterlife), being raised from the dead and given invulnerability and a chance to bring to justice all of the thugs who murdered him and Shelly. However, it's not just the fact that Draven is able to kill the guilty which makes this a decent revenge flick; it's the manner in which he does it.

I remember Draven as being the first somewhat superhero who killed his tormentors (the only person in comics who did that at that time was Marvel Comics' The Punisher), and the character became a major influence for a character I created in my writing. Unlike The Punisher, it was the first time a hero had such heavy, strong emotions conveyed to the public. This was captured not only in Lee's performance but also in the writing and production, which included rain and most scenes taking place at night. Also, the soundtrack kicks ass. Sadly, Lee was accidentally killed during the shooting of a scene in this film. However, he left one hell of a legacy in this film alone! This film has reached cult status and has earned its place among top pop culture revenge films.

Desperado (1995)
Directed by Robert Rodriguez
Starring Antonio BanderasSalma Hayek and Joaquim de Almeida

"You know, it's easier to pull the trigger than play guitar. Easier to destroy than to create. They killed the woman I loved ... and ruined my life."

Not many audiences knew when this film was released that it was a sequel to writer/director Robert Rodriguez's 1992 debut film El MariachiAntonio Banderas' "Mariachi" (taking over for the first film's actor Carlos Gallardo and paying homage to "The Man With No Name" series featuring Clint Eastwood) is looking for a man named Bucho, who is the top man responsible for changing his life and killing the woman he loved (Consuelo Gómez). Right from the beginning of the film, there is a major showdown and gunfight, thus cementing Banderas as a kick-ass action star! With a guitar case full of a cadre of weapons, Mariachi cuts a bloody path toward Bucho, while also having to deal with the destructive consequences of his road to vengeance. This is another film where the soundtrack (mostly provided by Los Lobos and Tito & Tarantula) really shines! This film would also establish writer/director Rodriguez as a bone fide talent in Hollywood (his El Mariachi only cost $7,225 to make and would go on to become an international success). The best part of the film are the finely edited sequences -- such as when Hayek's character is serenading to a sleeping Mariachi while killers are surrounding her residence.
Before Rodriguez made spy movies for kids, he created this Latino character who had some actual street cred with his badass-yet-emotionally-deep story. At times, of course, the action is a bit unrealistic, but it's fun to watch -- taking a cue from Quentin Tarantino and old "Spaghetti Westerns" (a la Sergio Leone).

Kill Bill (2003 & 2004)
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Starring Uma ThurmanDavid CarradineDarryl HannahLucy LiuMichael Madsen and Vivica A. Fox

"Revenge is never a straight line. It's a forest. And like a forest, it's easy to lose your way ... to get lost ... to forget where you came in."

I consider this to be director Quentin Tarantino's masterpiece. This revenge film, which Tarantino used to sample -- and pay homage to -- some of his most favorite film genres, is so epic that Tarantino had to split it into two parts. The first film is much more violent and action-packed, inspired by the classic Japanese Toei and chanbara films, Hong Kong (Shaw Brothers) martial arts films, the 1970s girls with guns films, and 1970s revenge films. Part One details protagonist The Bride's (Uma Thurman) awakening from a coma after being shot in the head by her former boss and boyfriend, Bill (David Carradine), who lead the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (Darryl HannahLucy LiuMichael Madsen and Vivica Fox), of which The Bride was once a member. Part Two is more cerebral and less action-oriented -- instead delving into the details of why The Bride was marked for assassination, and her training as an assassin, as well as having to confront the truth of why she chose to go legit and quit the Viper Squad; this film is inspired by Leone's "Spaghetti Western" and revenge films. Thurman's Bride (or, B******, for those who know) is one of the tough female characters in pop culture today and an awesome force to be reckoned with. I cannot speak enough about how great this set of films are! There was talk of a sequel but Tarantino recently announced that the project was shelved. There was also talk of one long "director's cut" of these two films, called The Whole Bloody Affair, and it was to be released on DVD in 2009, but that project was also shelved. Either way, it does not take away from the impact of this film's greatness.

Leon: The Professional (1994)
Directed by Luc Besson
Starring Jean RenoNatalie Portman and Gary Oldman

"I like these quiet little moments before the storm. It reminds me of Beethoven."

Writer/director Luc Besson had already made his mark with The Big Blue and La Femme Nikita, but it was this story of a professional hitman, Leon (Jean Reno), who takes in a preteen girl Matilda (Natalie Portman in her first role) whose family was killed by crooked DEA agents led by Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman), who is perhaps one of the best villains in cinema. When Matilda finds out what Leon does for a living, she asks him to help her to learn to "clean" (assassinate) so she can have her revenge on the agents. Against his better judgment, Leon teaches her a little bit at a time. In the meantime, Leon is opened to a whole new world as Matilda teaches him to live and love (in a familial way) -- she connects him to the world. There is plenty of action, but the story also has more of an emotional depth than most revenge films. From first viewing of this film, you could tell Portman was going to be a star as she holds her own with superb veteran actors Jean RenoGary Oldman, and Danny Aiello. This is also one of the few revenge films with a touching ending. Can't recommend this one enough!

Man on Fire (2004)
Directed by Tony Scott
Starring Denzel WashingtonDakota FanningRadha MitchellMarc AnthonyChristopher WalkenGiancarlo Giannini, and Mickey Rourke

"Forgiveness is between them and God. It's my job to arrange the meeting."

Based on the 1987 book by A.J. Quinnell, this adaptation stars Denzel Washington as protagonist John Creasy, an alcoholic former CIA agent and Marine officer who is now a bodyguard, hired to take care of nine-year-old Pita Ramos (Fanning) just until her father (Anthony) can renew their kidnap and ransom insurance. At first, Creasy hates the assignment and often drinks himself to sleep; however, over time, Pita grows on him and the two form an unlikely strong bond. When Pita is kidnapped and is pronounced dead, Creasy viciously attacks everyone involved in her abduction and murder. Out of all the revenge films on this list, I think this one has to be the best when it comes to methodology. And, of course, Washington is at his best.

Munich (2005)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Eric BanaDaniel CraigCiaran HindsMathieu KassovitzGeoffrey RushMichael LonsdaleMathieu Amalric, and Ayelet Zurer

"We are supposed to be righteous. That's a beautiful thing. And we're losing it. If I lose that, that's everything. That's my soul."

Based on the book Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team, this film is based on the true story of Operation "Wrath of God," which was Israel's "off the books" retaliation for the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre where five Israeli athletes and six coaches were killed by a Palestinian group called Black September. The film follows Avner (Bana) who is hired from Mossad (Israel's version of the CIA) to form a black ops group to kill top leaders and conspirators of the Munich plan. Spielberg uses his usual unique filming style and captures one of the best revenge films ever! There is plenty of tension as the group of ragtag operatives are somewhat making up their missions as they go along, but what is best about this particular revenge film is that it asks the kinds of questions that need to be asked. In one standout scene, Avner asks his handler (Rush), "Did we accomplish anything at all? Every man we killed has been replaced by worse," to which his handler replies, "Why cut my fingernails? They'll grow back." The other crucial scene is where one of Avner's teammates feels he is losing his soul over the revenge mission. On top of it all, John Williams' haunting score is phenomenal! It doesn't get much better than this!

Payback (1999)
Starring Mel GibsonGregg HenryMario BelloDavid PaymerLucy LiuKris Kristofferson, and James Coburn

"Not many people know what their life's worth is. I do. Seventy grand. That's what they took from me. And that's what I was going to get back."

I struggled of whether or not Mel Gibson's brilliant Braveheart should be on this list since his character William Wallace does start his rebellion due to him avenging the death of his wife; however, I decided Braveheart was not applicable to this list because even though there was one scene of revenge, it is not revenge that continues Wallace on his rebellion quest. There are plenty of Gibson films that focus on revenge and are great (RansomThe PatriotEdge of Darkness), but the one that take the cake is this gem from 1999. Based on Richard Stark's (real name Donald Westlake) brilliant novel The Hunter (and one of my favorite series of books), Gibson plays Porter (in the books, it's Parker) who is betrayed by his team of thieves, shot in the back and left for dead. When he awakens, Porter makes it his mission to get the money owed to him ($70,000) and get even with those who betrayed him.  

Revenge (1990)
Directed by Tony Scott
Starring Kevin CostnerMadeleine StoweAnthony QuinnJames GammonMiguel Ferrer, and John Leguizamo

"I killed a man who I hated today."

Aptly named (especially for this list!) is this 1990 revenge romance-suspense film (based on the novella by Jim Harrison) starring Kevin Costner as retired U.S. Naval aviator Michael "Jay" Cochran who wants a vacation and decides to visit his friend Tiburon "Tibby" Mendez (Quinn), a Mexican businessman who is actually a powerful crime boss. Upon arriving to Tibby's hacienda, Jay meets Tibby's young wife Miryea (Stowe) and the two soon fall in love. Unfortunately, Tibby finds out about this and is not too pleased. Events then unfold that send Jay in a downward spiral of revenge. I remember this as being one of the first movies I watched which was clearly about revenge and it captivated me. The direction of Tony Scott (who also did Man on Fire) is wonderful and the world lost a great director upon his death.

She-Devil (1989)
Directed by Susan Seidelman
Starring Roseanne BarrMeryl StreepEd Begley Jr., and Linda Hunt

"I've always found that justice serves those who serve themselves."

Hey, revenge can be funny too! And most people may think I'm crazy for loving this film. But I do. I think it's one of the best revenge films made! Also, before this film, I wasn't too crazy about Meryl Streep. But, after watching this film (based on the novel by Fay Weldon), I thought any actress (who's usually known for serious, dramatic roles) who can make a comedy -- and, in a sense, make fun of herself -- then she's got to be cool. In this film, housewife Ruth (Barr) has a loving family in her husband Bob (Begley Jr.) and their two children. But when Bob leaves Ruth for romance novelist Mary Fisher (Streep), Ruth chooses to get even. And get even, she does! Not just that but she also inadvertently makes a life for herself in the meantime. This film, while a comedy, does go to a few dark places as Ruth simply snaps and blows up her family home. Nevertheless, the film is funny and I have to admit that I never tire of watching it.

V for Vendetta (2005)
Directed by James McTeigue
Starring Natalie PortmanHugo WeavingStephen ReaStephen FryJohn Hurt, and Roger Allam

"People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people."

Based on the revolutionary comic book series by legendary recluse writer Alan Moore, this film takes place in an alternate universe where Great Britain is the main power in the world and almost a fascist state (think of George Orwell's 1984). Evey (Portman) is nearly raped one night by the secret police after curfew, but is rescued by a man in a Guy Fawkes mask (which has since come to symbolize rebellion and revolution of the common man). The man, only known as "V," is somewhat of an anarchist upon first viewing, but it is soon revealed that the men -- including the Supreme Chancellor (Hurt), a bishop, a scientist, a police commissioner, and a news channel talking head (who is uncannily similar to a particular Fox News host who calls people "pinheads") -- who run Great Britain, have wronged "V," and he is out for revenge -- while also simultaneously rebelling against the fascist government. This is not just an entertaining movie but an important piece of writing regarding true freedom and how, oftentimes, the destruction of freedom does not come from an outside threat, but rather from within.

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