Jay Cochran (Kevin Costner) is a fighter pilot with the U.S. Air Force who is enjoying his last day of flying before he leaves the military for good. He takes up a jet and performs all sorts of aerobatics as his co-pilot complains, and when they get back to base there is a surprise party held for him where his colleagues celebrate his achievements and he pays tribute to them back, albeit jokily. But now he must contemplate life on his own, where he has not shown any interest in settling down before, so the offer to work for Mexican businessman and old pal Tibey (Anthony Quinn) comes exactly when he needs it. He travels south, and the future looks rosy - but Tibey's wife Miryea (Madeleine Stowe) looks mightily attractive...
Costner and his director Tony Scott enjoyed a very good decade in the eighties, and for a while that purple patch would continue into the nineties, but even these golden boys would suffer a setback during that period, and Revenge was their ill-fated collaboration right in the middle of all that success. Audiences simply were not engaged by the thought of such a simple plot stretched out over two hours and no matter that Costner was a big star by now, this did not sound worth shelling out for a ticket, thus it was a flop. Naturally, with this degree of proof of worth in the two men's other works, it did not take long for it to be reassessed, easily generating a small but vocal coterie of fans who deigned it underrated.
How convinced you were by this argument depended on how far you were willing to buy into this tale that unfolded at a snail's pace in its original version, though Scott returned to it and recut it for a swifter experience that made less of a meal of its forbidden romance and the subsequent fall-out that gave the film its blatant title. The trouble was, to do so you had to accept a line of plotting that was prevalent in eighties action movies and thrillers, but was rarely as dwelt over in quite the same amount of gloopy sentimentality mixed with its deadening brutality; fair enough, there were more violent films from this decade, but few were as mournful over a situation that abused its lead female character to this extent.
That trope was for the hero to seek, yes, revenge for what had been done to the woman in his life, usually murder, and usually about halfway through the action at most, and so it was that Jay and Miryea fall in love under the oblivious Tibey's nose and conduct a passionate affair - very slowly. Up to this midway point there has been a sense of approaching doom, for we have seen that Tibey is not so much a top businessman than a top gangster, therefore propagating the image of Mexico as basically run by the criminal fraternity who think nothing of using violence to get their way. If you could not see what he was going to visit upon Jay and his wife then you would have to be particularly obtuse, as it was foreshadowed in thumpingly unsubtle manner throughout the opening two acts.
So when we got to the third, which lasted a good hour, it was merely playing out what we had anticipated, and if you were not caught up in the romantic angle, then it would be unlikely that you would be on board for the rest of this. That central trigger for the vengeance was so unpleasant - Miryea scarred and repeatedly raped in a brothel - that you wondered about the psychology of those who thought this would make a love story for the ages. Costner was no stranger to that side of cinema, but his Jay was only too pleased to apply his own style of savagery that rendered him very difficult to side with, and it was purely because the bad guys were so despicable that he was the hero at all. Yet again, that slick schmaltz was unpalatable, especially when the abused woman had so little personality, she was merely a trigger for Jay to prove himself more masculine than his enemies. No matter how glossily Scott presented the visuals, Revenge was an objectionable, nasty little yarn painted up like something for couples to swoon over, and not everyone was going to buy that. Music by Jack Nitzsche.
British-born director Tony Scott was the brother of director Ridley Scott and worked closely with him in their production company for film and television, both having made their names in the advertising business before moving onto glossy features for cinema. He shocked Hollywood by committing suicide by jumping from a bridge in Los Angeles for reasons that were never disclosed.
I might have to revisit this since I remember liking it when I was a teen. Could be the fog of adolescence. Speaking of which, I believe Quentin Tarantino cites this among his favourite Tony Scott films.
25 May 2017
It does have its fans, I just find it too unpleasant overall. Didn't Quentin Tarantino say he preferred Tony to Ridley? Might be because Tony directed one of his scripts, of course!