Runtime: 116 Mins
I wasn’t going to put this review up, but I decided to finish it and publish it because it is definitely one to watch and seems to have a lot of critics sticking the boots to it, for some bizarre reason. It’s a coarse revenge flick with a stacked cast of good actors. Willem Dafoe is here. So is Forest Whittaker, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson and Christian Bale. Bale is someone I have to admit having previously liked as an actor, before his superstar turn in The Dark Knight series. He made some good movies such as Equilibrium, The Machinist and Rescue Dawn. It’s good to see him downplay things here with a superb script alongside Woody Harrelson.
It’s a tried and test formula for Manly Movies – a man seeks vengeance when scumbags terminate his kid brother. Russell (Bale) and family are struggling on the rust belt in 2008, especially Bale’s kid brother Rodney (Affleck) who has just come out of four tours in Iraq and is now suffering from PTSD. Rodney is on a course of self destruction fighting in bare knuckle fights where he doesn’t give a damn about money, so when he’s ordered to throw a fight and refuses he collides with lowlife Woody Harrelson (DeGroat). Russell, having just been released from the joint, enters single-track mind of murderous vengeance.
It almost sounds like Next of Kin (1989) with Liam Neeson ought for revenge when his brother (Bill Paxton) was killed. But this is of a different genre. This movie is a restrained thriller, yet it’s vicious and enthralling. I like the subtext of abandoned veterans facing betrayal upon leaving the service, like the movies of old in the 80’s like First Blood. There’s even a shot at Obama, at least that how I interpreted it, when the movie briefly jeers at a subject welcoming him as the next Kennedy. Probably not a coincidence, this movie has a lot to say about economic peril for the working man. Yes, cynical stuff, but the good type. Refreshing.
It does hit the brakes around the centre, story wise. That’s probably my only complaint, but even then you barely notice. That’s because the real value of this movie lies in the acting performances. Man, they’re just fucking slick. Director Scott Cooper has mastered the art of subtlety and lets his fine actors put in measured performances. Harrelson puts in a career best, and that’s saying something – you’ll believe he’s a murdering piece of shit. Bale tones it down, equalling his co-star and Affleck may have stolen the show as troubled veteran Rodney, had he been given more screen time. That’s before you even consider Cooper’s natural direction and heavyweight support actors.
I was going to give this movie an 8/10. But it’s the ending that sends it up to a 9, it has the balls to see its story through. The ending is highly satisfying – a righteous act of Mandom!