Tony Scott’s controversial thriller, Revenge, is based rather loosely on a 1979 novella written by Jim Harrison for Esquire Magazine. I say loosely because the source material is quite short and was necessarily expanded for a feature length film. I never saw the 1990 theatrical release of the film, but research shows it did rather poorly. What I know of the difference between this cut and the original comes from Tony Scott’s commentary, which I’ll discuss in the audio portion of this review. I do know the changes m…st be significant as extra credits were required which provide for an additional composer for new music for some additional footage. The running time is also a stunning 30 minutes or so less than the original film. I say this up front so that if you are a fan of the original your mileage may differ. That DVD was released back in 1998. The DVD cover contains a quote from Quentin Tarantino exclaiming that Revenge is Tony Scott’s masterpiece. He does not imply which version he’s talking about. Either way, that’s saying a ton when you consider Scott’s impressive portfolio.
The film begins as Michael Cochran, no relation to Zephram (I think) is retiring as a Navy pilot. He heads to Mexico to spend time with a very old friend. It is hinted that he is going there to work for him, but that situation is never really explained. Unfortunately he falls in love with his pal’s wife, Mireya (Stowe). I say unfortunately because it happens that his pal Tibby (Quinn) also happens to be a ruthless underworld kingpin with plenty of power, money, goons, and guns. Did I mention he has a lot of guns? From almost the moment Cochran enters this world he seems to be ruffling the feathers of everyone around Tibby even before he starts ruffling Mireya’s bed sheets. Now I hate to disagree with the venerable Mr. Tarantino, but doesn’t all of this look just too contrived to be a masterpiece? Call me, Quentin, and we’ll talk about it over pasta and meatballs, my treat.
The film feels forced and contrived almost from the beginning. It appears unlikely that Tibby and Cochran could have ever been this close of friends. The affair is so unlikely that Scott feels compelled to make up in steaminess what it lacks in credibility. Fortunately the film does improve considerably later on. No matter how unlikely the journey, things do improve when we reach our destination a little less than halfway through the film. The turning point arrives when the affair reaches the inevitable consequence that you’ll see coming but somehow these two characters couldn’t figure out. The second half of the film is all about the titular revenge. The film turns much darker and more violent as Cochran leaves a trail of bodies on his way back to Tibby and ultimately Mireya..
Anthony Quinn displays his superior acting skills as the brutal Mexican Don. His performance is the only thing carrying the first 40 minutes of the film. He is all at once convincing and with just a single glare we fear him, never doubting for a second the horror he is capable of. Costner is his usual over-hyped underperforming self. This is when he was at the height of his career. Costner plays a great fed or the like. Here he once again demonstrates how incapable he is of stretching himself in a part. The part was originally written for Jack Nicholson, and damn, what a different film this is with this casting. He injects so very little passion into a passionate man supposedly driven by emotions that Costner never displays. Madeleine Stowe starts slowly but improves as the film wears on. It’s ironic that for an actress cast because of her beauty she is far more compelling as her character is subjected to ugliness. A pleasant surprise is a small role by Rockford Files favorite Lt. Becker, Joe Santos. He is vital in establishing Tibby’s brutality when he kneels to beg for his life. The expression on Santos’s face is the best performance I’ve ever seen out of him.
Revenge is an average film that had the elements to be a great one. A contrived plot made to look all the more forced by Costner’s lack of emoting skills spoil the seeds of a tremendous idea. Tony Scott did the best he could with what he had, but behind his accolades for his cast I’ll bet even money he secretly wishes Nicholson had been there instead. If you want to tell us what you really think, Tony, you can join QT and I for that sit down. Just give me a ring. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Costner was an executive producer and likely had too much control from the get go.
Revenge is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The transfer is average in just about every way. Color is pretty solid but is often soft, blending too much into the darker lighting used on most of the film. Occasionally grain intrudes on the print, but never enough to hurt the experience. It is even possible there was some trouble integrating old and new footage as the entire film has an overprocessed feel to it. Black levels are fine most of the time, if not a bit grainy.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is another example of a pretty average presentation. It is not aggressive at all and seldom are your rears engaged much. The score is preserved well, but I think the new music might clash a bit with the old. This, of course, is not a transfer problem but one of editing. Dialogue is straight up where it should be, but there is occasion to strain to hear a word here or there.
Tony Scott provides a commentary track that mostly serves as a soapbox. He is obviously not fond of producer Ray Stark and he pulls no punches. He discusses the changes he made and so was my primary source in that field. Scott’s gruff voice is apparently on a noise gate because he’s moving around all the time, so comes in and out quite hard.
“Obsession: The Sex and Violence of Revenge” Martin Mull once said there’s not enough sax and violins in the world. I’m caused to wonder if he ever caught Tony Scott’s Revenge. Scott tells us he was actually quite uncomfortable filming the steamy sex scenes. Gee Wiz, Tony, how the heck do you think we feel watching it. Surprisingly, Stowe did not seem to mind. Costner also joins in on the feature which lasts just under 15 minutes. He’s a bit melodramatic. He tells us with a straight face how he was almost errantly scarred for life because of the make-up f/x on his face. Get a grip, Cos. Don’t look for any guest parts on a Trek film.
After listening to Tony Scott talk about his considerable distaste for how the film appeared in theatres, I must say I think I might have preferred that original version. With all due respect for Tony Scott, a truly brilliant director, I think he was too close, and still is, to be objective. Of course, I won’t really be able to say for sure without actually seeing the original. Until then, “You should humor me.”
Special Features List
- Commentary with Director Tony Scott
- “Obsession”: The Sex and Violence of Revenge