Picks and Pans Review: Act of Vengeance
HBO (Sun., April 20, 8 p.m. ET)
Shucks, I thought I'd like this one. Vengeance is the true story of Jock Yablonski, the good guy in the United Mine Workers union who was assassinated with his wife and daughter when he fought to oust crooked union boss Tony Boyle. Here, I thought, was a tale of good vs. evil, of power, politics, murder and mystery. Wrong. Vengeance sheds as much light on its subject as a mine shaft would. You're shown Boyle ordering Yablonski's death and defending a mining company after an explosion kills his union's workers. But those facts are thrown out quickly, as if they're a nuisance. You're not given the chance to see Boyle's evil exposed, to let your hate of him grow as Yablonski's must have. Neither are you told what makes Yablonski so good—not once do you hear a miner say why he supports Jock. But those two characters get far fuller treatment than the bumbling hit men hired to bump off Yablonski. We've all been told that foul language is a sign of a limited vocabulary, and I've never seen better proof of that axiom. To show you that the hit men are scum, the script takes every license cable allows to have them uttering profanity—not just bad words, but racial epithets and sexist talk tantamount to rape. I don't doubt that these men talked this way, and to include their language in a realistic portrait is fine. The problem is that the portrait ends there. Vengeance has no feel for its people and no more for its story. The movie ends with what you knew was going to happen all along: the murders. The rest of the story—the capture and conviction of Boyle and his hit men—is thrown away with words printed on the screen. Wilford (Cocoon) Brimley as Boyle is a lonely bright spot; he tries to fill in the blanks left by the script and direction. Charles Bronson as Yablonski is as animated as a lump of coal, and Ellen Burstyn as his wife comes off like some blue-collar Donna Reed. Vengeance is a good story wasted on a bad movie.
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