Without having seen Colombiana, it really felt very familiar just from watching the trailer.
Matrix style action sequences with fast cutting and multiple speeds, big explosions, tons of bullet casings hitting the floor, a young girl going through something horrible, probably witnessing her family getting killed, then of course she grows up and gets revenge.
Yes, there’s still plenty of revenge movies coming to a theater near you, and it’s amusing to see how much milage Hollywood has gotten out of a very dated genre.
The Hollywood Reporter called Colombiana a “bullets and bras” thriller, and it was Kill Bill that relaunched the revenge movies.
As Quentin Tarantino once explained to Vanity Fair, in revenge movies the first twenty minutes everything is great, then a bunch of guys kill your family, and you spend the rest of the movie hunting them down and killing ‘em. (He didn’t mention one of the most important rules of the genre, the biggest a-hole behind it all usually gets it last, and their death is usually the most hideous.) Not really much more to a revenge, which is why you have to bring a lot more to a revenge film to make it interesting.
One of Tarantino’s all time favorites was Rolling Thunder; he even named one of his production companies after it. Not only do a bunch of rednecks kill William Devane’s family, they also cram his hand down the garbage disposal, and he’s forced to replace it with a hook. (The logo for Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder was a bloody metal hook.)
Kill Bill brought the revenge genre back with women, and two female revenge films also helped inspire it, They Call Her One Eye and I Spit On Your Grave. Both are pretty hideous movies, but they’re also both surprisingly well made.
Grave was especially controversial, and in the early eighties, Siskel and Ebert raved against it constantly on Sneak Previews, their show before At the Movies. (Grave eventually got pulled from theaters in Chicago, which Ebert later claimed he wasn’t aware of). However, Grave did very well on home video at the dawn of the VCR boom, and it sold especially well – even though not many people owned VCRs at the time.
Considering how popular revenge films have become in recent years, nobody really remembers the movie that started it all, Charles Bronson’s Death Wish, and it has the usual revenge formula of kill the guy’s family, then he becomes a one man vigilante, killing as many muggers, thieves and scum as he can until he gets the right guys.
When the film, which takes place in New York, came out in 1974, the city was over-run with crime, and many theatergoers who’d had enough lived vicariously through the Bronson character – Paul Kersey – wishing they could also take the law into their own hands.
Two other interesting variations on revenge that come to mind are Death Rides a Horse, a terrific spaghetti western revenge flick that Tarantino sampled some of the music from for Kill Bill, and Orca, which was pretty much the reverse of Moby Dick where the whale’s wife is harpooned, and he seeks vengeance on the culprit. The joke went the movie should have been called Death Fish, and they both had the same producer, the late Dino De Laurentiis.
Again, there’s not much to a revenge film unless you can bring something different or innovative to it, and if not, it can be a pretty predictable exercise.
At a seminar for Fade In magazine, Christopher McQuarrie, screenwriter of The Usual Suspects, advised the audience to never write a movie about revenge because it’s the dumbest thing you can make a movie about. He did, however, point to one exception he thought was a brilliant reinvention of a revenge story: Robocop.