The Best Movie You Never Saw: Revenge

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be looking at REVENGE!

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THE STORY: Michael Cochran (Kevin Costner) , a retired Naval aviator, visits his old friend, Tibey Mendez (Anthony Quinn) at his hacienda in Mexico, never questioning the older man’s powerful connections to the elite or the source of his wealth. When Cochran starts an affair with Tibey’s gorgeous, much-younger wife, Mireya (Madeleine Stowe), he learns the hard way that Tibey’s not one to be crossed.

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Kevin Costner, Anthony Quinn, Madeleine Stowe. Written by Jim Harrison & Jeffrey Alan Fiskin. Directed by Tony Scott.

john leguizamo kevin costner miguel ferrer revenge

THE HISTORY: I get a lot of comments from readers complaining that the films I’ve chosen for this column aren’t obscure enough. Fair enough – although the intention has always been to encourage readers to give unjustly ignored movies a second look. However, I think this week’s movie may be one a lot of our readers haven’t seen, given how it utterly sank like a stone at the box office, only picking up some notoriety when director Tony Scott reissued a director’s cut shortly before his tragic death.

The movie is REVENGE, which was released in early 1990, and occupies a weird space in the careers of the director, Scott, and star Kevin Costner. For Scott, he was coming off two huge blockbusters with Don Simpson & Jerry Bruckheimer, TOP GUN & BEVERLY HILLS COP 2, and after this he’d return to their stable for DAYS OF THUNDER. As for Costner, he was coming off three back-to-back hits, THE UNTOUCHABLES, BULL DURHAM and FIELD OF DREAMS. This one tried to re-position him as an edgy male lead, something that didn’t quite work at the time – as audiences still preferred him in more heroic, noble parts, such as his own DANCES WITH WOLVES, which would come out that same year .

“It’s a story about this forbidden love and their insatiable desire to fuck each other. That’s what it was all about, that’s the focus, and it’s been a big part of my life so I know what it’s all about. The insatiable desire to fuck, that’s what this movie is about.” – Tony Scott – REVENGE commentary via Film School Rejects 

madeleine stowe revenge

Based on a novella by Jim Harrison (the same book contains the story LEGENDS OF THE FALL would be based on), this was a hot project all throughout the eighties, with guys like Don Johnson flirting with the part Costner would play, while none other than Jack Nicholson coveted the Tibby Mendez part. Eventually, old-time producer Ray Stark would get the rights, and therein lies where the trouble started, as Scott’s hard-edged thriller wasn’t the romantic drama Stark wanted – which is odd as he pretty much filmed the novella (it’s a great, quick read). The version that hit theaters was softened somewhat, and Scott was never really happy with it, which is why he recut it years later (making it twenty-minutes shorter). Audiences were indifferent, with it grossing only $15 million, a shock given how hot Costner’s star power was at the time, but not much of a surprise when you see the movie, especially the incredibly depressing (but appropriate) ending, which no studio would have ever the stones to put out today. It had its champions though, among them Quentin Tarantino, whose quote is featured on the director’s cut, and would work with him on TRUE ROMANCE a few years later.

"I'm a huge fan of that movie. In fact, that was the reason I was supportive and really tried to make it happen that Tony directed 'True Romance…I was like, I want the man who did 'Revenge' to do my movie." Quentin TarantinoAP Interview 

kevin costner john leguizamo miguel ferrer revenge

WHY IT'S GREAT: REVENGE is a movie that demands a certain sophistication, or rather, an open mind. I saw it as a kid, when I was expecting it to be a Kevin Costner action flick, and I hated it, especially the bummer ending, which denied me the violent REVENGE I thought was promised to me by the title. What I didn’t realize then was that the revenge of the title was not actually Costner’s to take, but Anthony Quinn’s. His Tibey tries to act honorably towards his friend Cochran, giving him every chance he can to bail out, but circumstance demands he take revenge, almost as a way to avoid losing face to his violent associates. That said, his revenge is especially brutal, especially against Mireya, whose face he disfigures and turns into a heroin-addicted, AIDS-afflicted prostitute. By comparison, Cochran gets off easy, being beaten to near death (in the director’s cut – his dog is also killed).

The movie is much more of a slow-burn than an action thriller, with the first half devoted to the relationships between Cochran, Mireya and Tibey, while the second half becomes more of a Sam Peckinpah-style thriller. Costner excels as the scarred-up tough guy, in one memorable scene violently slashing the throat of one of his assailants. He’s helped out by the late Miguel Ferrer and John Leguizamo in an early role.

anthony quinn revenge

As good as Costner and Stowe are (she’s unbelievably gorgeous – and very sympathetic), Quinn steals the show, with the most striking difference between the two cuts behind how he’s more of the lead in the shorter version than Costner, something which I’m sure the producers had problems with. He’s also made a somewhat more sympathetic figure, something which makes the ending a lot easier to swallow. Veteran character actor James Gammon also has a great bit as a cowboy trucker who briefly teams-up with Cochran, a nice bit of flavoring left over from the novella. As for Scott, his style is superb, and complimented by a terrific score by Jack Nitzsche (STARMAN), several themes of which were used over and over in nineties action movie trailers.

“I was channel surfing at 3 o’clock in the morning, and I see this guy face down on the hood of a car in cuffs, and he turns to the camera and says ‘Don’t you realize I’m an Academy Award-winning composer?’ It was Jack Nitzsche. But that was Jack, Jack was out there, and he was my hero.” – Tony Scott – REVENGE commentary via Film School Rejects

BEST SCENE: Until revisiting it as an adult, I also had trouble with the fact that Costner didn’t blow Quinn away during their climactic confrontation. Watching it now, I get it – Costner’s sole focus is to get Mireya back, and if Tibey lets him know where she is, he’s gonna leave him to his own demons, which have already started to consume him. This bit here ranks among the most atypical final showdowns in action movie history.

SEE IT: REVENGE is available on DVD/Blu-ray, mostly in the director’s cut form, although an HD version of the theatrical (twenty minutes longer) is currently streaming on Crackle for free.

PARTING SHOT: For me, REVENGE stands as one of Tony Scott’s greatest films, and watching it again, I’m struck more than ever by what a tragic loss his passing in 2012 was. I think, in some ways, this is most personal film and one anyone who calls themselves a fan of his needs to track down.


About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.