Tag Archives: revenge

Red Hill (2010)

“Jimmy Conway rides into town, he’ll be bringing hell with him.”

I watched the 2010 Australian film, Red Hill because:

a) I’m an Aussie film fan

b) It’s a crime film

While Red Hill is a combination of two of my film interests (Aussie & crime), it’s also a brilliantly conducted homage to the Western revenge film. Conjure up an image of a hideously scarred Clint Eastwood as the silent cowboy who rides into town seeking revenge, and you’ll have the basic idea.

The film begins with an immediate sense of unease. We see a beautiful meadow of grazing horses disturbed by a distant boom. This boom, as it turns out, is a pipeline explosion in a prison about 6 hours away. More of that later.

Then segue to fresh-faced, young copper, Shane Cooper (Ryan Kwanten) and his heavily pregnant wife Alice (Claire van der Boom). This is going to be Shane’s first day on the job after requesting a transfer to the remote small town of Red Hill. Shane and Alice are seeking a fresh start and a quieter new life, and Shane is running from the shame of being shot by a young junkie. Shane’s first problem of the day emerges when he can’t find his gun. No worries. He’s not going to need a gun in the quiet town of Red Hill. Or is he?

Red Hill is the sort of town that’s composed of one main street. A good number of the businesses are boarded up with ‘for sale’ signs in the window. That bad vibe continues when Shane arrives in the rural police station. To say he’s met with hostility is putting it mildly. Old Bill (Steve Bisley), his new boss is humourless, nasty and mean. He makes it clear to Shane what his position will be at the police station, and it’s going to include a great deal of humiliation.

Shane tags along with Old Bill who alternately lectures and interrogates his new police officer. There’s a great scene of a town hall meeting that illustrates the town’s politics. Apparently a few years earlier the government declared the nearby mountain as a nature reserve, and this decision rankles the locals who feel the law has hurt their economy. A timid, middle- aged woman suggests looking outside the town for revenue, and Old Bill incites the hillbilly crowd with a polemic designed to eviscerate any argument and encourage violence with seemingly popular sentiment:

Our forefathers didn’t sacrifice their blood, sweat, and tears so a bunch of wankers could come here and suck fucking pinot.

The tedium of a day full of Old Bill laying down his rules to Shane shifts abruptly when news stations report that a dangerous criminal, Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis) has escaped from Western Bay Prison and may be headed back to Red Hill. Years earlier, Conway was convicted of murdering his wife and attempting to murder a Red Hill police officer. Old Bill rounds up a posse of unsavoury characters, and Shane, the new man on the block is assigned to watch one of the roads that leads into town….

Red Hill is a crime film, but it rapidly morphs into a western revenge flick–the lone silent killer, the frontier town layout, the townspeople locked into a conspiracy of prejudice, past guilt and self-righteousness–all the elements of the western are here updated to rural Australia. Aborigine Jimmy Conway, who wears a long duster-clad, sports a bandolier and carries a deadly boomerang, is convincing as the silent, merciless revenge seeker. Once he arrives in town, all hell busts loose….

Shane, and it can’t be any coincidence that the main character is named after one of the greatest heroes in the history of Western cinema, is dropped right into the middle of a mess that he can’t understand.

The early scenes between Shane and Old Bill show Shane suffering humiliation after humiliation while Old Bill makes it clear that he wants a copper who’ll take orders without question. At one point, Old Bill grills Shane about the transfer, and it’s the first time we see Shane dig his heels in over the issue of whether or not the young junkie who shot Shane needed help. Old Bill severely underestimates Shane–if he’d watched the original Shane, he’s know that this character is a former gunfighter. Old Bill, evil old sod that he is, equates being good with being weak–a big mistake.

Red Hill is completely over-the-top at times, but that made me love this film even more.

From writer/director Patrick Hughes

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Filed under Australia, Crime

Box 507 (2002)

In the Spanish crime film Box 507 (La Caja 507) Maria (Dafne Fernandez), the only child of bank manager Modesto Pardo (Antonio Resines) and his wife  Angela (Miriam Montilla) was just 16 years old when she died in a horrible fire. It’s now seven years later, and Pardo and his wife are clearly damaged by their loss. Bad luck strikes once again when Pardo’s bank is robbed by a band of criminals who hold Pardo’s wife hostage in order to ensure his cooperation. The bank robbers empty out the vault, and when Pardo–who’s been drugged and duct-taped–wakes up, he finds himself in the box surrounded by the scattered contents of looted bank safe deposit boxes.

As Pardo waits to be rescued, he happens to catch sight of a discarded stack of papers which hold details indicating that his daughter’s death may not have been an accident after all.

The police step into the bank robbery, and while a certain amount of suspicion falls onto Pardo, he’s mainly considered an innocent pawn. Curiously, Pardo doesn’t hand over the papers–the contents of Box 507 to the police, and at this point, the film segues into the investigation of yet another crime–what exactly happened to Maria Pardo.

Meanwhile the owner of the box’s contents, Rafael (Jose Coronado) and his live-in punching bag, vodka-soaked ex-bar dancer Monica (Goya Toledo) come to the wrong conclusion that the bank robbers have stolen the papers they hid at the bank for safe-keeping. Rafael is a nasty piece of work, but then everything is relative, and even Rafael trembles in his psychotic mafiosa’s boss’s presence.

The film very competently juggles two parallel plot threads–there’s Pardo, the man who was initially a patsy who is emboldened by bleak circumstance and revenge to hunt down his daughter’s killers, and Rafael, who erroneously goes after the bank robbers for his missing papers. Inevitably (but not predictably) the two men–Pardo and Rafael are on an explosive collision course.

The plot capitalizes on the various levels of power wielded by the characters to introduce the idea of various levels of evil. While some characters obviously are sadistic and enjoy enacting revenge in hideous ways (creative kills but no close-ups), other characters are content with making business deals with the understanding that everyone has a price. The film (happily) has no high-tech gymnastics, and instead this is a revenge tale of an ordinary man who sets out to get even with the people who ruined his life.

From director Enrique Urbizu, Box 507 was filmed in the Costa Del Sol.

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Dark City (1950)

“Guys like you ought to be put away.”

dark cityWWII still echoes in the 1950 noir film Dark City starring Lizabeth Scott and Charlton Heston. Dark City was Heston’s first major role and here he is cast against his later mould, and instead of playing General Gordon, Michelangelo, Julius Caesar, Ben Hur, John the Baptist, El Cid and Moses, here Heston plays the damaged and slightly nasty bookie, Danny Haley. Danny owns a piece of a bookie joint and looks forward to the day he’ll have enough cash to leave the city and go… somewhere else.  

The film begins with a raid on the bookie joint, and as luck would have it Danny isn’t caught up in the raid but he watches it happen. While he escapes arrest, he watches as his pals Barney (Ed Begley) and Augie (Jack Webb) are carted off to jail. The group’s slightly slow sidekick, Soldier (Harry Morgan) cleans up after the raid and then Danny appears and makes phone calls. The raid wasn’t supposed to happen and Danny and his pals paid big bribes to ensure they were safe. This is the second raid in three months and it’s left Danny and his pals in a bad spot.

Although Danny owns just a piece of the bookie joint, he has a leadership role with Barney, Augie, and Soldier. Augie is a cheap thug who gets his kicks out of tormenting easy targets while Danny is the brains of the operation. But there’s something wrong with Danny, and just what that is begins to become evident when he goes to see his girl, Fran Garland (gorgeous Lizabeth Scott), a singer at local nightclub Sammy’s. Fran sings sweet love melodies to a room full of mesmerised men, she’s really just singing her heart out to Danny as he sits at the bar and listens. But while Fran gazes at Danny like a love-sick Cocker Spaniel looking for a new home, Danny continually warns Fran to give him space, not to question him, and not to expect too much. It’s clear that where women are concerned, he has a giant chip on his shoulder.

At Sammy’s, Danny runs into a pleasant, friendly and guileless stranger, Arthur Winant (Dan DeFore), an athletic director from Los Angeles who’s there to buy gym equipment, and they strike up a casual conversation about their mutual WWII  experiences stationed in England. Danny spots a $5,000 cashier’s in Arthur’s wallet and invites him to a friendly little card game with Barney and Augie.

After the card game goes sour, the players are picked off one at a time in this tense noir tale of revenge. At one point, Captain Garvey (Dean Jagger), the vice cop responsible for raiding Danny’s bookie joint begins hauling Danny in to the cop shop in an effort to make him see the error of his ways. Danny, it turns out, is the son of one of those American blue blood families, a Cornell grad to boot. Garvey’s dressing down of Danny is one of the best played scenes in the film.

Heston plays a great jerk. He’s sarcastic and his superior air is underscored by a disdainful sneer. Lizabeth Scott acts her heart out as she tries to get Danny to love her, but Danny has a lot of lessons to learn along the way, and some of these come from the sweet and complex Mrs. Winant (Viveca Lindfors). The film’s moral centre is found in the characters of Mrs Winant and Soldier–with both characters tweaking Danny’s conscience. Soldier, damaged by one too many punches considers Danny to be worse than his pals Barney and Augie because he ‘knows better.’ Somewhere buried in Danny’s brain, there are the remnants of a conscience but he’d rather leave it hidden–along with his painful past.

One of the film’s severest faults is its underutilisation of Scott. Scott’s singing scenes (that’s someone else’s voice) are delivered with stiff moves. With sappy lines and a lovesick gaze, Fran isn’t given much scope beyond becoming Danny’s doormat. Although the plot hands Fran the ability and the insider knowledge to affect what happens, her fairly cardboard cutout figure role is limited to convincing Danny to go back on the straight and narrow, and she doesn’t act beyond cajoling and pleading. If Fran’s role were written differently, Dark City would have been a much better film.  The plum roles here are reserved for Heston as Danny–a man who had the best start in life and proceeds to flush his advantages down the toilet, and Viveca Lindfors as Mrs. Winant, a kind, patient and understanding woman. Dark City is directed by William Dieterle.

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Filed under Film Noir, Lizabeth Scott

Mariposa Negra (2006)

mariposa

“Sometimes it’s better not to know.”

The marvelous, amazing and ultimately tragic film Mariposa Negra (Black Butterfly) follows the relationship between two young Peruvian women who are thrown together by circumstance and then swept up in brutality orchestrated by Montesinos, the head of Peru’s Intelligence Service. This is yet another incredible film from director Francisco Lombardi. After his fantastic Ojos Que No Ven and Tinta Roja, I couldn’t wait to see Mariposa Negra, and I was not disappointed.

When the film begins, young idealistic schoolteacher, Gabriela (Melania Urbina) is engaged to judge, Guido Pazos (Dario Abad) when he is brutally murdered in his apartment. Tabloid journalist, Angela (Magdyel Ugaz) is assigned to cover the story. As usual, her boss, Osman (Gustavo Bueno) hands her an outline of the sort of muck he wants her to write. The torture and murder of the judge–a man who’d received death threats–turns into a sleazy story claiming that the judge was killed while participating in a homosexual orgy.

Grief-stricken Gabriela begins haunting the newspaper office. Already ripped apart by the loss of her fiance, Gabriela is outraged at the tabloid headlines. Gabriela, who comes from a privileged background, is largely oblivious to the uglier side of Peruvian politics, and so she interprets the tabloid story in a linear fashion, seeing it as a pack of lies that needs to be corrected rather than a piece of propaganda controlled by Montesinos. After Gabriela creates a scene in the newspaper office, Osman orders her dragged outside, and there she waits for hours, determined to talk to the journalist who wrote the story about Guido.

Angela notes Gabriela’s tenacious, patient presence outside of the building, and she approaches Gabriela. Is she driven by curiosity, a spark of compassion, or is she motivated by the urge to pop Gabriela’s innocent illusions about Peruvian society? After meeting Angela, the two girls–similar age but from opposite backgrounds–strike up a relationship. These two characters are both fascinating women, and their relationship is at the heart of this incredible film.

Angela has no illusions, is tough and jaded. While she contemplates ambition, she’s lost her drive, and her editor bitches at her for her lack of enthusiasm without realizing that he is responsible for her attitude. With all those sleazy stories she’s told to write, she’s world-weary enough to realize that she’s caught in a maze of corruption, and that fighting against it is futile. But then she meets Gabriela–a girl who comes from a protected, cosseted environment, but who will not rest until she has revenge. Confronted with Gabriela’s naivete, Angela is at first brusque but then she becomes curious about Gabriela. This curiosity is tinged with a protective edge.

Gabriela discovers that tapes exist of Guido’s death, and Montesinos, who had a penchant for taping his illegal activities–ordered the torture and murder (termed ‘medical operations’)–along with video commemoration of the killing.

Ultimately this is a tragic story, immensely sad and incredibly disturbing. But at the same time there’s beauty here–Gabriela’s single minded, obsessive desire to meet Guido’s killers and her calm acceptance of her inevitable fate. To her, giving her life is worth the risk if she can clear Guido’s name and catch his killers. Angela, at first, dismisses Gabriela as a lightweight, incapable of holding her own on the streets, but Gabriela possesses what Angela lacks–a belief system, and that gives her strength and makes her impervious to fear. Common sense and a strong sense of self-preservation would hinder Angela from undertaking the sort of risks Gabriela takes, and Gabriela continues to surprise Angela.

The only film I can compare to Mariposa Negra is George Sluizer’s Dutch film Spoorloos (the American version starring Jeff Bridges is The Vanishing) in which the main character, Rex Hofman possesses the same sort of single-minded obsession as Gabriela. There is simply no peace in this life, on this planet until Gabriela completes–or fails–her mission. Obsession usually causes stress and often-erratic behavior, but in Mariposa Negra, Gabriela’s obsessive quest to avenge Guido actually gives her peace and an unnerving otherworldly serenity. Gabriela’s aura of innocence adds to the film’s strong sense of fatalism.

Mariposa Negra from director Francisco J. Lombardi highlights a dark period in Peru’s history. The downfall of Montesinos eventually came as the result of the exposure of his secret videotape stash by Peruvian journalists who were brave enough to expose Montesinos via television and risk the consequences.

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Secret Smile (2005)

 

secret-smileSecret Smile is an intriguing two-part, made-for-British television thriller that charts the chain of revenge that follows the break up of a casual one-night stand between London architect, Miranda Cotton (Kate Ashfield) and the creepy Brendan Block (David Tennant).

Career-minded Miranda takes a chance on a complete stranger and rapidly lives to regret it as the sociopathic Block smarms and worms his way into the lives of Miranada’s family and friends. Soon her life is a complete nightmare, but Block is so smooth, so amenable that no one–including Miranda’s family–believes that Block is a total psycho. It’s not long before Miranda begins to wonder just what Block is capable of and how far he’s prepared to go to make her pay. But it takes Miranda a while to realize that the manipulative Block is playing with her and that he dictates both the game and the rules. With someone like Block, you either walk away or change the rules. Miranda chooses the latter.

Block as the enigmatic, calculating ex-boyfriend from hell is entirely credible. I did, however, find myself getting rather annoyed with Miranda, and saying things such as, “you idiot” to the screen when Miranda caves and Block scores a point. But my annoyance with Miranda was really just a manifestation of how wrapped up I was in the drama.

The ending was a little implausible, but it was definitely dramatic enough to match the rest of this tale. Based on the novel by Nikki French, the film is directed Christopher Menaul.

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The Politician’s Wife (1995)

 “The urge to destroy is creative.”

Fans of fine British television, prepare for just over three hours of splendid, riveting drama in The Politician’s Wife. This three-part film concerns a Tory politician, Duncan Matlock (Trevor Eve) and his loyal wife, Flora (Juliet Stevenson). When the film begins, a sex scandal involving Matlock and a “research assistant” Jennifer Caird (Minnie Driver) is just about to explode all over the front pages of the tabloids. London-based Matlock and his entourage hightail it back to the Matlock’s country estate where Flora lives with the children. Matlock’s aim is to break the news to Flora before she sees the headlines. Matlock realizes, and the Prime Minister has made it perfectly clear, that Matlock’s political future depends on whether or not Flora stands by her errant husband. Matlock’s first imperative is to salvage his career, and he coldly calculates Flora’s role–expecting her smiling, public participation.

politicianFlora, who’s been wondering why reporters are gathering outside of her home, is devastated when she hears about the affair. She’s been under the illusion that she had a happy, healthy productive marriage. Her first impulse is to pack her bags and leave, but the forces of the Tory party close ranks and conspire to minimize Matlock’s affair and ensure she remains at her husband’s side. Even Flora’s father pressures Flora to remain–his hopes are pinned on Matlock’s career too. Flora’s decision to leave affects so many people, and she’s subtly reined in and pressured to portray the dutiful forgiving wife. “The Politician’s Wife” sympathetically illustrates the complexities of Flora’s position as she gradually realizes that she’s married to a scumbag.

Flora is the perfect politician’s wife. While her husband possesses good oratory skills, Flora is the brain behind her husband. Naively, she married Matlock believing in his finer qualities, but the machinations behind the affair and the subsequent fallout, reveal Matlock as a hard, devious, polished, unethical man who cares nothing for his constituents. But what is good for Matlock is not necessarily good for the Tory party, and Flora gradually decides to destroy her husband’s career.

With a fine cast, and stellar acting, the superb Juliet Stevenson steals the film as Flora Matlock. When the film begins, she’s the confident, secure, demure wife of a rising star in the Tory party, and she’s her husband’s biggest fan and greatest credit. She unravels when she discovers the affair, but due to the fact she’s in the public eye, much of her unraveling is done in private. As a woman who’s used to playing a role for the camera, she turns this skill to her ability–using it to survive and gradually devising a subtle plan for her husband’s destruction. Excellent entertainment.

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I’m the One You’re Looking For (1988)

 “You never know what madness our hearts will go for.”

On the way home from an assignment, beautiful model Natalia (Patricia Adriani) is raped by a stranger. She tries to put the incident behind her, but there are inevitable consequences, and she becomes obsessed with finding her unknown assailant. In the course of her search, Natalia meets a taxi driver (Chus Lampreave), and Salamander, a cabaret performer. Natalia discovers that it’s easier to confide in these new acquaintances than in her own boyfriend.

im-the-one1I’m the One You’re Looking For is a dark and disturbing film–first there’s the crime, and then there’s the victim’s response to it. Natalia doesn’t run off for therapy, she looks for revenge. Forget that silly film Lipstick which had the same sort of plot–I’m the One You’re looking For takes an entirely different approach, and many viewers may find Natalia’s response unacceptable. This is not an action thriller–this film is complex and character driven. Director Jaime Chavarri plays with some of the myths surrounding rape, and Natalia’s boyfriend’s ultimate response plays into those myths. Surrealistic scenes add to the bizarre quality of Natalia’s search, and the film is based on a story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, so expect magical realism. Ultimately, this film is quite unforgettably beautiful and strange. Fans of Spanish cinema should enjoy the ambiguous ending. This film is one of six in the Gabriel Garcia Marquez collection.

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