Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Masters of Violence: 11 of the Most Satisfyingly Violent Films

There's too much violence everywhere these days! People have become desensitized to it! Somebody please think of the children! Yes, I know it's a sick world, blah blah blah. I'm not going to go into too much depth about why I think film/television violence is relatively harmless - especially when considering all the real-life violence that's on the news everyday - but, essentially, the entertainment industry can't be blamed for why we're such monsters.

I actually find a little bloodshed to be quite cathartic. Entertainment violence can be many things. It can be gruesome, perverse, torturous, highly-stylized and even beautiful, any of which is fine by my book as long as it's done with reason and within the confines of a quality film. However, there are some cases of film violence that are just a cut above the rest in terms of the level of satisfaction that can be gleaned from their carnage. These are the films that you come away from smiling, despite the fact that you just saw someone get torn apart. These are the films that stimulate that reptilian brain. These are the Masters of Violence.

1. ROBOCOP - (1987, Verhoeven):

I'm a fan of ROBOCOP, but I haven't seen it that many times, so I turned it on the other day, and man was it satisfying. I actually credit the film with inspiring me to write this feature. The theme music is persistent throughout the film as this man-machine (manchine) drives around, looking for bad guys and messing them up. The revenge aspect of story is made more enjoyable than standard fare by the fact that Murphy, the good cop who became the robot, was literally torn apart by bad guys' bullets.

Peter Weller is outstanding as the man within the suit who gradually begins to regain his memories and his restrained performance makes his motivations more interesting. As viewers, we are without remorse for any of the antagonists. You're either the biggest jerk in the world - Clarence J. Boddicker, one of his psychopathic cronies, or corrupt OCP scumbag Dick Jones. Jones puts controls on Robocop so he can't arrest an OCP employee, so him getting gruesomely put down at the conclusion is very enjoyable.

2. TAKEN - (2008, Morel):

If ROBOCOP is the inspiration for this article, TAKEN is the inspiration for this idea. It is the poster-boy for satisfyingly violent films. A lot of revenge or desperate-man action films will invoke the cliche "whatever it takes". So does TAKEN, but boy does it mean it. Liam Neeson's character is hunting down sex-traffickers who abducted his daughter. Him, being a former spy, has the know-how to retrieve her, but only within a certain period of time before she likely disappears for ever.

What makes TAKEN so satisfying is that he's killing people involved in the sex-trade, the most reprehensible criminals on Earth. Neeson's character doesn't stop to ask questions or question himself and he doesn't need to because there is no one that he comes across in this film that doesn't deserve a horrible death. His time-crunch is also imperative, so as viewers we just want him to keep going. Not only does he run the risk of losing his daughter, but the clock is counting down to her inevitable rape.

His carnage is not without its detractors though as French government officials pursue him in an attempt to curtail his violence. The ways in which he gives them the slip, coupled with his almost unchecked violence against the scum of the Earth villains, create a very satisfying experience indeed.

3. A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE - (2005, Cronenberg):

"How come you're so good at killing people" - Carl Fogarty

Tom Stall just wants to live a quiet life, but an act of violence against would-be robbers in his sleepy town calls his former life and sins to him. Viggo Mortensen is the lead and what's so effective about his performance is that he just seems like a regular guy. Even when it comes out that he's not, he still at least seems like a guy who wants to be a regular guy. He isn't seeking out revenge, he's not looking into inflicting violence, instead he's forced into it and forced into protecting the life he's chosen to live.

But for a man who appears so normal, his acts of violence are downright vicious: smashing coffee pots across a man's face, breaking bones, shoving noses into brains and fucking up pretty much everyone in his way. There's just something very appealing about a character who has a mastery of violence, but takes little enjoyment in using it.

4. DEAD MAN'S SHOES - (2004, Meadows):

This is another revenge film and another that is made more satisfying by the protagonist's mastery of violence. Paddy Considine plays a soldier who returns to his hometown where local thugs brutalized his mentally-challenged brother. So naturally, his actions don't need justification. He's basically a force of nature and his targets are absolutely no match for him. The events of the film play out a bit like a horror film, with Considine's character carefully and methodically taking out the thugs.

5. HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER - (1973, Eastwood):

This Eastwood revenge Western makes my list for the manner of violence and revelry expressed by his possibly-otherworldly character, The Stranger. There's never really any conclusive proof about who his character is supposed to be. Is he possessed by the ghost of a dead sheriff? Is he the sheriff's brother? Death himself? The open-endedness of that subject does not detract at all from the level of satisfaction caused by his often-amusing actions.

Throughout the film, besides handily defeating people in combat, The Stranger renames the town Hell, paints it red, and makes a little person the mayor and sheriff. All the while, he indulges himself in the goods of the townspeople, which adds another level to his revenge. Sure, he's waiting for the murderers of the late sheriff so he can inevitably gun them down, but he's also punishing the townsfolk in a way for their cowardice and inaction.

6. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS - (2009, Tarantino):

This film's inclusion is simple enough to explain - who doesn't hate Nazis? INGLOURIOUS works as a revenge film, yes, but that payoff (as satisfying as it is) doesn't occur until near the end. The rest of the violence is left up to the titular band of soldiers led by Brad Pitt's Lt. Aldo Raine. Their particular brand of justice is pretty gruesome, with most of the bad guys getting scalped, but one great scene, culminating in the introduction of the "Bear Jew", displays a strange willingness to bargain.

The soldier who reveals information about the location of his comrades doesn't receive a death sentence, but is instead given the mark of the swastika to bear forever, a highly-satisfying compromise.

7. STRAW DOGS - (1971, Peckinpah):

STRAW DOGS makes the list despite being relatively low on violence throughout the first two-thirds of the film. It does so because its payoff is pretty outstanding. David Sumner, played by Dustin Hoffman, is a physically small, non-confrontational intellectual, who spends much of the movie being emasculated by his beautiful wife and a group of local toughs, one of which is his wife's former boyfriend. They relocated to her hometown in rural England so that he could work in peace, but they are without such luck.

After a good portion of subtle intimidation, the local gang make their move after abandoning David on the moors during a hunting trip. Two of them make their way back to the Sumner's and rape his wife. This even goes undetected by David. Only at the conclusion, with the gang converging on their home, is David moved to do something.

His break is pretty drastic and made all the more satisfying after watching him quietly seethe for two hours. He's catching guys in bear traps and hurling hot oil with reckless abandon, something I'll wager you'll only see out of the typically-friendly Hoffman in this particular performance.

Awesome trailer! I have to quote it: "Sam Peckinpah, the man who uncaged The Wild Bunch, now unleashes Dustin Hoffman in STRAW DOGS".

8. FALLING DOWN (1993, Schumacher):

Michael Douglas' character in this film, William Foster, is our protagonist, but he's not a good guy. He's a man with nothing to lose who, after a messy divorce, losing his job and a particularly bad day in traffic decides that he's had enough. Foster takes to the streets, gradually acquiring increasingly lethal weapons (from wooden bat to rocket launcher), and lashing out against what he sees as a flawed society.

Part of what makes Foster so great is that he's never really looking for trouble, it always seems to find him, as though L.A. is just one huge minefield of confrontation. I'm not saying his actions aren't overboard because that's what makes this film so amusing. Pulling out an automatic weapon in a fast food joint after being refused breakfast and then given an unappetizing burger isn't something you or I would do, so, in some ways, we get to live through Foster vicariously.

9. THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006, Aja):

It's not CITIZEN CANE, but boy is it violent! Much of the film's first half is unwatchable. A helpless family of travelers take a short-cut through the desert at the behest of a trustworthy-looking gas station attendant and are happened upon by some horrific freaks. If the acts of rape and murder inflicted upon the family aren't bad enough, they kill one of their German Shepards.

So, it's up to the weak, liberal son in law and the remaining German Shepard to take out the trash, the freak-trash that is. Who doesn't hate deviant freaks? And who isn't happy to see the dog get a little revenge for once?

10. GET CARTER (1971, Hodges):

This makes the list simply because it's a classic, classy revenge flick starring Michael Caine at the top of his game. Carter's (Caine) unrelenting and brutal revenge is marked by the character's machine-like drive to resolve the matter of his brother's death. Carter is also a gangster and enforcer, so he's not the typical, out-of-his depths retribution hunter, he's adept at killing, a master of violence, which adds to the film's enjoyment.

11. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007, Coens):

This is sort of an 'honorable-mention' entry to this list, but it definitely deserves to be here. It's unlike most of the films on my list because most of the violence is being perpetrated by the bad guy. Sure, not many masters of violence are good guys, but Anton Chigurh is a full-on villain. During the film, Woody Harrelson's character likens him to the bubonic plague. Part of the satisfaction that comes with this film is Chigurh living up to that reputation. He is a force of nature throughout the film, up to the credits.

The manner of his violence is also satisfying for its originality and level of badassery. He utilizes some sort of monstrous cannon with a silencer, as well as a compressed-air butcher's gun and some makeshift explosions.

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