Tony Scott Tribute: We check into the Director's Cut of his 1989 film Revenge
Any self-respecting film fan, particularly one like me, who came of age in the late-eighties/early-nineties, was absolutely horrified to learn about Tony Scottís suicide. While the mitigating factors that led to the suicide are still in dispute, by all accounts Tony Scott was one of the good guys in a town not necessarily known for kindness, and he will be missed.
One thingís for certain, Scott- more than many other directors out there- utterly changed the way films looked and felt. His sense of style, rapid-fire editing, filtered cinematography, along with the occasional elegiac flair makes his oeuvre of dynamic action flicks worth a lot of study. Everyone has their own Tony Scott favorites. Mine is probably a toss-up between TOP GUN (a film I watched over and over as a child) and TRUE ROMANCE- with a little room left over for MAN ON FIRE and CRIMSON TIDE. But- thereís another film of his that I find has never really gotten its due, and in a week thatís bound to be full of Tony Scott tributes, itís one that deserves some attention.
That movie is REVENGEÖ
Based on a well regarded novel by Jim Harrison, REVENGE was a hot property in the eighties, with all manner of stars and hot-shot directors being attached. It finally got made in 1989 by Tony Scott, in association with old-time producer Ray Stark. Starring Kevin Costner just before his DANCES WITH WOLVES peak, REVENGE had a troubled production history. While Scott reportedly got along famously with Costner (on the DVD featurette, Costner lavishes praise on him- saying that the way Scott worked with his crew influenced him on DANCES), he get along less well with the old-school Stark, who disliked the ultra-violent dark film Scott turned in. He re-cut the film, turning it from a lean and mean sexy thriller into a languid melodrama, and the film died a quick death early in 1990.
Years later, Tony Scott- whose stature had improved considerably since then, convinced Sony Pictures, who owned the rights to REVENGE to allow him to go back in and re-work the film. Early in 2007, he put out his directorís cut, prominently featuring praise by Quentin Tarantino on its cover. Scottís new cut is a good twenty minutes shorter than the original film, and a whole lot leaner and meaner (not to mention sexier).
The story of a hot-shot Navy pilot- Cochran (Costner) who quits the service, and heads to Mexico to hang out with his rich buddy, Tibby Mendez (played by an amazing Anthony Quinn)- he quickly crosses his host by starting an affair with Tibbyís gorgeous young wife (Madeline Stowe- scorchingly sexy). Unknown to Cochran, Mendez is the kind of guy you donít mess with, and he eventually disfigures his wife, sends her to a Mexican bordello- after first making her a junkie. He also has Cochran beaten within an inch of his life, but Cochran is rescued by some locals- who nurse him back to health. From there- Cochran takes his revenge.
Sounds like a simple movie, right? In the original version, yes. But- in Scottís recut, itís not at all what youíd think. In addition to trimming the flab from the film, Scott puts a lot of Quinnís role back into the film, changing the movieís focus to Mendez. There are three scenes that make a particular amount of difference. The first is when Tibby confronts Cochran, and asks him to be his pilot on a trip, which is actually a ruse to get him away from his wife. Itís his benevolent way of killing the affair, but Cochran doesnít realize the chance Tibby is giving him, and he ignores his plea. The second is a scene showing Tibby after his wife has been disposed of, with a new, even younger wife- that heís unable to bring himself to interact with. In this, we see Tibbyís is ashamed and remorseful of his brutal act, and it adds shades of grey to a guy that seemed evil. Finally, thereís another scene where TIbby, drunk and brandishing a shotgun (that- not coincidently- Tibby had earlier given Cochran as a gift), threatens one of his henchman, who he learns has been assaulting his imprisoned wife. It all makes the unconventional ending, which seemed strange in the theatrical cut- seem all the more appropriate, and itís a better film for it.
Scott also changed the color timing on the film, bringing it more in line to his more modern tastes, and as such, REVENGE no longer feels like an eighties film- and could (and should) be taken as a whole new addition to his filmography. Other than that, a lot of REVENGEís other attributes suddenly become clearer. One is the truly badass, but ultimately conflicted performance by Costnerís whoís rarely been better. The bar scene in particular, where he runs into the goon that cut Stoweís face is particularly striking, and the most badass thing Costnerís ever been a part of. Thereís also some amazing character work by actors like James Gammon, as the doomed Hemingway-esque character that takes Costner under his wing, and Miguel Ferrer as a bad-ass gunman with his own grudge against Tibby- not to mention John Leguizamo in his first film. Finally, thereís the score by Jack Nitzsche, which is haunting, elegiac, and so good that half of the cues ended up being featured in every second action/thriller trailer of the nineties.
Truly, REVENGE is Scottís lost masterpiece, but luckily, Scott himself was able to rescue it from obscurity, and anyone who appreciates his craft needs to see it. Iím not always a fan of directorís cuts- but like those done by his brother Ridley, this is a revamp thatís truly night and day compared to the original. Itís particularly worthwhile for Scottís forthright commentary, and the excellent featurette tracking his work on the new cut. It is required viewing and more than enough to make you remember what a huge talent we lost. Rest in peace Tony.