Judge Daniel MacDonald thinks revenge is a dish best served a la mode.
"I consider Revenge to be Tony Scott's masterpiece."—Quentin Tarantino
By the end of the '80s, Kevin Costner was undeniably a major Hollywood star, having found box office and critical success with The Untouchables, No Way Out, Bull Durham, and Field of Dreams over just three years between 1987 and 89. While that clout secured him the lead in the high profile project, based on Jim Harrison's popular novella, he couldn't get the okay to direct it (ironically he won an Oscar for directing Dances With Wolves that same year). The gig went to director Tony Scott (Top Gun), whose vision was quite a bit more extreme than that of producer Ray Stark, and the production was plagued by the two butting heads over the copious amount of sex and violence. Released to middling reviews and uninterested audiences, the movie became a minor entry on both Scott and Costner's resumes.
Now, seventeen years later, Scott has revisited the piece to create a director's cut more closely resembling his original vision. New footage has been inserted, but this version is most notable for the nearly 30 minutes that have been removed. Gone is everything that softened the impact of this dark tale, leaving behind a strikingly efficient, fast paced journey of retribution.
Facts of the Case
Having reached his retirement, fighter pilot Michael Cochran (Costner) travels to Mexico to spend some time with old friend, and ruthlessly powerful gang lord, Tibby Mendez (Anthony Quinn, Lawrence of Arabia). He is immediately enraptured by Tibby's constrained young wife Mireya (Madeleine Stowe, The Last of the Mohicans), and the two enter into a hot and heavy affair.
Sleeping with a mobster's wife shows questionable judgment on Cochran's part to say the least: when Tibby learns of the pair's indiscretions he and his goons predictably beat Cochrane to a bloody pulp, dropping his broken frame in the desert; a brutalized Mireya is sentenced to life in a brothel.
Nursed back to a reasonable approximation of health, Cochrane sets off to find and reclaim Mireya and to seek revenge on those who would have seen him dead.
Despite the rather foreboding plot, Revenge is a pretty entertaining tale. Knowing exactly what we're in for helps, as does the fact that none of the characters is completely sympathetic—Cochrane, especially, gets what he deserves. And as much as we enjoy watching him seek retribution, we're not shedding any tears over his beat-down either. Revenge is a piece of big-budget entertainment first and foremost, and Tony Scott's slick visuals ensure we're not so close to the action that it hurts. Scott does give ample attention to the sex, which was probably more difficult to get away with in America, and he portrays it with a raw, fervent quality seen very rarely in Hollywood productions—this is important as sex is a motivating factor throughout, and despite being explicit it never feels like titillation for titillation's sake.
We learn everything we need to about the two leads in Revenge's early sequences. When Cochrane arrives at Tibby's compound, both the henchman who answers the door and Tibby himself question why he is showing up two days later than expected; Cochrane's response is simply that he took his time. With Cochrane's disregard for his friend's feelings, we grasp his impulsive, self-centered nature, an imperative to understanding why he would make such a foolhardy choice as to bed Tibby's wife (even if she does look like Madeleine Stowe). Further, Tibby is played as both a sensitive and proud man, these elements dictating the action he takes against his friend. With motivations so clearly defined, Revenge is conceptually a very simple film, especially in this manifestation. It's light tragedy, the conclusion dictated by the choices Cochrane makes early on, and we're simply watching the dominoes fall.
That said, there is some meat on its bones: the picture makes statements about the nature of sexual obsession, betrayal, and friendship, but in doing so the film raises more questions than answers. There are no accidents—Cochrane is well aware of what he is doing and what the likely consequences are, and Tibby, after trying to give Cochrane a way out, easily resigns himself to what he must do to his former friend. Instead of victims of circumstance, they are masters of their own fates, with lust an instinct overriding all others. Cochrane intentionally puts on the blinders of obsession, and pays the price.
In addition to solid turns by Costner and Quinn, James Gammon (Major League), Miguel Ferrer (Traffic), and a young John Leguizamo (Summer of Sam) all show up in the second act to expand the story, but their roles have been reduced in this version.
Revenge: Unrated Director's Cut features a crisp, colorful picture with no sign of edge enhancement or artifacting, and grain is kept to a minimum (although it is present at times as a consequence of the film's vintage). At this point in his career, Scott had a tendency to fill the sets with smoke to allow for shafts of light beaming through windows, and smoke can be prone to problems when reproduced on DVD; this disc handles it like a champ. Fine detail is easily discernable in the frequent close ups. The audio has been remastered into a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix that is at its best during the early flying scenes, but remains front heavy most of the time. The dialogue is clear and distortion free, and the .1 channel adds an appropriate amount of heft to gunshots.
Tony Scott provides a blunt, self-deprecating audio commentary in which he discusses problems that came up during the production, laughs at his overuse of smoke, and alludes to the ways in which the story's themes have been applicable in his own life. Scott is always a verbose, affable listen, and this ranks among his better commentaries. Be warned, though, this one is not for the kiddies. Also included is a fifteen-minute featurette tracking the movie's development, problems, reception, and mostly why this new version is superior to the theatrical cut. While some tidbits are repeated on the commentary, this is an unexpectedly valuable supplement.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Although Madeleine Stowe is obviously doing the best with what she's got, the character of Mireya is awfully thin, existing mostly as motivation for the leading men's violent posturing. Relegated to projecting either pained or passionate expressions, Stowe has little dialogue and even less to actually do. Cochrane and Mireya are depicted as having an instant, overwhelming sexual attraction without the need for such luxuries as having more than a 30-second conversation, which supports the lean-and-mean storytelling but shamefully shortchanges her character.
While I wouldn't go so far as to call it a masterpiece, Revenge is an engaging piece of cinema that oozes testosterone. Tony Scott knows how to make an entertaining film, and this director's cut is purposeful and intense, making it the version to watch.
Everyone's guilty of something in this one.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director Tony Scott
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