At some point, everyone will experience (though perhaps not entertain) a revenge fantasy. Whether it's fast-food forgetfulness resulting in tomatoes on an order where they're unwelcome, or a thief doing a smash-and-grab on the family Pontiac, a desire to give the other guy what he clearly has coming to him is a natural response to misfortune.
Of course, in civilized society we frown on going all Death Wish (1974) on those who have done us wrong. We tend to limit acts of vengeance to the occasional "Why, I oughta ..." and perhaps the shaking of our fists at the heavens.
In the movies, though, characters can act on those desires. It's completely cool to gun down the bad guy who perpetrated the terrible crime, or to leave the flaming bag of unmentionable on the doorstep of a jilting prom date. Revenge can be sweet.
Here are five films that treat revenge with some measure of affection:
THE GODFATHER: PART II (1974): Both a sequel and a prequel to the gangster epic, Part II is full of acts of vengeance. Much of the prequel sequence, which deals with the rise of original godfather Vito Corleone, is an extended revenge montage in which the rising crime lord dispenses street justice.
THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987): "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."
There's not a revenge mission statement much clearer and more concise than that. Still, as brutal as the swordsman's fare-thee-well sounds, it's one of the premier gags in one of Hollywood's brightest and lightest comedies. Seriously.
RUSHMORE (1998): When a schoolboy crush turns into an unlikely love triangle, a prep school student and successful businessman plot ways of proving love, eliminating competition and avenging perceived wrongs committed in the name of passion. Equal parts Tolstoy and Marx Brothers, this film succeeds because the actors involved -- Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman -- understand that revenge, in a comedy, is something subtle and best played cold.
UNFORGIVEN (1992): Although formatted as a classic revenge film, the sublime Unforgiven succeeds because it's both a great Western and a great meditation on karma. Clint Eastwood, who also directed, plays a former gunfighter who discovers that there's always a price to be paid for violence.
THE LIMEY (1999): A short, sharp shock of a movie, The Limey stars Terence Stamp as the father of a slain girl looking to even the score with a man who seems to have gotten away with murder. Relentlessly stylish and emotionally engaging, it also stars Peter Fonda as the California record producer who becomes the target of Mr. Stamp's attentions.
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