The sophomore feature from British sibling directors Ludwig and Paul Shammasian (The Pyramid Texts) doesn’t waste any time establishing its themes. The opening moments feature a scene of workmen demolishing a church, a couple engaging in rough sex, and a fiery sermon delivered by a street preacher. With this immediate blending of violence, sex and religion, you wind up surprised that the film wasn’t written by Paul Schrader.
Rather, Retaliation was scripted by Geoff Thompson, delivering a taut, intense story about a man wracked by childhood trauma and forced to deal with it all over again many years later. Orlando Bloom gives a career-best performance in the lead role; couple this with his similarly stellar work in the recently released war film The Outpost, and it’s clear that leaving Hobbits and Caribbean pirates behind has done wonders for his acting.
Bloom plays Malcolm, addressed by everyone as “Malky,” a demolition worker whose latest assignment is to tear down the church where, we later learn, he was sexually abused by a priest as a young boy. Malky’s desire to eradicate the past is made abundantly clear by the physical ferocity with which he handles the assignment, wielding his sledgehammer as if he can literally bludgeon his memories into submission.
Unfortunately, that past rears its ugly head in the all too physical form of the now elderly priest (James Smillie), whom Malky happens to spot at his local pub. The encounter sends the already fragile Malky into an emotional tailspin that manifests itself in self-abuse and self-mutilation that includes stabbing his hand in an act of symbolic stigmata. He does find some relief in his interactions with an ex-con street preacher (Charlie Creed-Miles) who takes a strong interest in his plight.
Malky takes comparatively little comfort in his emotional connections with such figures as his elderly mother (Anne Reid, subtly powerful), his rowdy and verbose best friend, Jo (a terrific Alex Ferns), and his casual girlfriend Emma (Janet Montgomery, also excellent), who clearly wants more out of their relationship.
Adapted from Romans 12:20, a 2008 short film from the same directors and screenwriter (the biblical passage features prominently in the storyline), the bluntly titled Retaliation suffers at times from a lack of narrative momentum. Very little actually happens in the course of the film, save for Malky quietly brooding as he wrestles with his existential demons and desire for revenge.
Bloom, however, proves more than capable of filling in his character’s blanks. Although he effectively uses his coiled physicality in his largely silent performance, he also delivers several anguished monologues, with great virtuosity, that could easily be utilized by acting students. It’s a powerful, memorable turn that unfortunately will probably be little seen, because the digitally released film doesn’t exactly live up to the sort of violent action seemingly promised by its title.
The Shammasian Brothers (that’s how they’re billed) bring a visual potency to the proceedings, using dramatic camera angles, expressionistic lighting and symbolic imagery to emphasize the story’s religious themes. There are also enough close-ups of Bloom’s chiseled face to provide the actor ample opportunity to movingly display his character’s complex mixture of deep-rooted anger and soul-crushing anguish.
Retaliation doesn’t provide easy viewing on any level, especially with its quietly shattering conclusion. But it does offer myriad rewards for those willing to endure its gut-wrenching emotionality.
Available on demand and digital
Production companies: Dreamscape, Tea Shop Productions, Worldwide Entertainment Group
Distributor: Saban Films
Cast: Orlando Bloom, Janet Montgomery, Charlie Creed-Miles, Anne Reid, Alex Ferns, James Smillie, India Fowler, Rory Nolan, Bill Fellows, Charlotte Powell
Directors: Ludwig Shammasian, Paul Shammasian
Screenwriter: Geoff Thompson
Producers: Jasper Graham, James Harris, Mark Lane, Sheetal Vinod Talwar
Executive producer: Kirsty Bell
Director of photography: Felix Wiedemann
Production designer: Anthony Neale
Costume designer: Nigel Egerton
Editor: Paul Shammasian
Composer: Stephen Hilton
Casting: Colin Jones