18th May2022

‘Vendetta’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Clive Standen, Bruce Willis, Theo Rossi, Thomas Jane, Jackie Moore, Mike Tyson, Maddie Nichols, Derek Russo, Kurt Aue, Randy Gonzalez, Lauren Buglioli, Jesse O’Neill, Cabot Basden | Written and Directed by Jared Cohn

Who doesn’t love a good revenge/vigilante movie? Death Wish, Rolling Thunder, The Exterminator, Vigilante, Walking the Edge... All classics of the genre made in a period some would call the “peak” of the genre in the late 70s/early 80s and all set a high standard for any film that followed. And there have been a LOT of similar films over the years. A lot. Including a remake of Death Wish from director Eli Roth that featured Bruce Willis in the headline role and it’s Willis’ name that used to sell Vendetta too. Though like a lot of his latter-day films prior to the shocking news of his illness and his retirement from acting, his appearance is more of an extended cameo than a meaty leading role. That’s left to British actor Clive Standen (who played Bryan Mills in the TV iteration of the Liam Neeson film Taken – another example of the revenge/vigilante movie).

Standen plays William Duncan a father who takes the law into his own hands after his daughter is brutally murdered in the street as part of a gang initiation. Realising legal justice won’t work and warned by his lawyer that his daughter’s killer will be free in under seven years. William, who it turns out is a former Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, sets out on a quest for retribution. After killing the street thug who was directly responsible for her death, he finds himself in the middle of a war with the thug’s brother, Rory Fetter (Theo Rossi), his father Donnie Fetter (Bruce Willis) and their gang, who are equally hell-bent on getting even for their fallen member. What ensues is a tense back-and-forth game of one man’s thirst for vengeance over another’s.

What’s interesting about the revenge/vigilante genre is the timing. The late 70s and early 80s were a time of high crime rates, when people took the law into their own hands to clean up the streets, streets people literally felt unsafe on, seemed like a just choice – a twisted, deluded, but possibly justifiable choice but still a choice. That’s why we got so many movies of that ilk back in the day (and also undoubtedly why anti-hero cops like Dirty Harry were so popular too). Since then crime has, frankly, soared and some seem to be calling for a return to an eye for an eye justice (or just ACTUAL JUSTICE!), especially given that the justice system, policing etc., look to be failing at every turn. Every turn… Which puts Vendetta in an interesting spot. On the one hand, you have a story about a father seeking revenge for the death of his daughter at the hands of a gang who obviously need to be dealt with by the “system” but aren’t; but on the other hand, it’s a white guy running around the streets with guns taking the law into his own hands. Which is not a good look given the current sociopolitical climate.

Politics aside, Vendetta is actually a fantastic example of the revenge/vigilante genre and is easily the best film I’ve seen, so far, from writer/director Jared Cohn. The film follows a familiar format but there’s a brutality to the film that, given the movie’s lower budget, feels a lot rawer and edgier than some of the film’s glossier Hollywood counterparts. There’s a scene post-William’s [re]vengeful murder of Danny Fetter (Cabot Basden) when Rory and Donnie seek their revenge on William that is truly shocking and remarkably brutal. It also helps that Clive Standen has had experience in the similar role of Bryan Mills – his downtrodden demeanour and dour performance as the revenge-seeking William is superb. He somehow manages to capture a hidden depth (reflective of his experiences in war) even before he unleashes hell – this is a man haunted by things in his past, and it feels like he’s trying to atone for them while getting vengeance on those who killed his daughter. Vendetta is not only a revenge/vigilante movie but is also says something about the horrors of war, PTSD, and how veterans don’t get the psychological support they need at home.

Oh and a lot of people get slaughtered. So there’s that.

And before I forget, Thomas Jane and Mike Tyson are in the film too. Both in small, you might say throwaway, roles: Tyson as a carjacker, gunrunner, what-have-you street gang leader; and Jane plays a customer/associate of Tyson’s who lives at the same motel as William and later sells him all the guns he needs to go to war. Jane at least gets to overact in his small but important role but Tyson’s is an even smaller role (if that’s possible). Yet he still gets to play the “hero” when the film calls for it! Meanwhile, Theo Rossi plays a fantastically unhinged Rory Fetter, making him so reprehensible that you can’t help but root for William to get his final revenge.

Speaking of final, this is reportedly Bruce Willis’ final film role and it’s thankfully one of his best direct to market movies. Plus the way he goes out? It kind of seems apt for someone who’s played the action hero for most of his career to say his final filmic goodbye by facing down the barrel of a gun and not backing down…

**** 4/5

Vendetta is out now, in the US, from Redbox Entertainment.


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