July 24, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Ludwig Shammasian and Paul Shammasian
Culture Representation: Taking place in England, the dramatic film “Retaliation” features an all-white cast representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: An enraged demolition worker seeks revenge on someone from his past who has moved back into the area.
Culture Audience: “Retaliation” will appeal primarily to people who can tolerate watching an emotionally realistic movie about brutal abuse and trauma.
The expression “Hurt people hurt people” comes from the real psychological cause and effect of people who’ve been hurt by abuse who then turn their rage on themselves and/or other people. That’s exactly what’s going on with Malky (played by Orlando Bloom), the troubled soul at the center of the intense drama “Retaliation.”
Directed by brothers Ludwig Shammasian and Paul Shammasian, “Retaliation” (which was formerly titled “Romans”) isn’t a simple revenge film. It’s also a scathing commentary on institutions and people who cover up or deny abuse, thereby allowing the abuse to be inflicted on more people, with no real accountability.
Malky is a 37-year-old unmarried, childless man who’s a demolition worker somewhere in England. It’s an ideal job for someone with the amount of rage that Malky has. And in this story, the building that he and the rest of the men in his demolition crew are destroying is a Catholic church where Malky used to go as a child. A giant crucifix in the middle of the church is symbolic of different things to different people in this story.
Malky lives with his widowed mother (played by Anne Reid), who’s a devout Catholic. His mother (who doesn’t have a name in the movie) likes to reminisce about happier times, before Malky became an angry and disturbed person. In an early scene in the movie, she and Malky sit in their living room, as she looks through old photo albums and rambles on about the people and places in those photos.
Malky’s story is revealed in bits and pieces, like a puzzle, but those puzzle pieces are very easy to put together, since the movie drops obvious hints about what happened to Malky to make him filled with so much animosity, before everything is revealed in the last third of the film. People expecting this movie to have a lot of non-stop fight scenes will be disappointed because the real battles are the ones that Malky has with himself.
Malky (who is covered in tattoos on the front and back of his torso) has a girlfriend/lover named Emma (played by Janet Montgomery), who works as a waitress at Malky’s favorite pub. It’s a bar where the co-workers whom Malky is closest to—a gruff Scot named Joe (played by Alex Ferns) and a meek teenager named Billy (played by Rory Nolan)—also hang out on a frequent basis.
Malky is an ex-con who went to prison for a violent crime. And one day, Joe tells Emma the full story of why Malky went to prison. It gives further insight into Malky’s character and why he might not be the cold-hearted jerk that he can appear to be.
Malky and Emma have an up-and-down relationship because he has a habit of emotionally pushing her away when he might feel too vulnerable. It’s clear that she’s in love with him, and she’s hoping for a more serious commitment to the relationship that Malky hasn’t been ready to give to her.
And he’s not exactly a romantic type: Their sexual liaisons are usually in a dirty back room at the pub. There are no flowers or love notes in this relationship. Malky spends a lot of time at Emma’s place, but he won’t make the commitment of living with her. And it’s not really a courtship if Malky shows no interest in taking the relationship to the next level.
Even though Malky has told Emma that he doesn’t want their relationship to be serious or exclusive, he’s also very jealous and insecure about the possibility that Emma might leave him. Therefore, Malky gets very upset with Emma when he sees that she’s accepted a car ride home from a male friend named Pete (played by John Whitby), whom Malky is sure is really trying to seduce Emma.
Emma insists that she and Pete are just casual friends, but Malky starts a mean-spirited argument with her about it. This quarrel is Malky’s way of testing how far he can push Emma before she’s had enough, as if he’s daring her to break up with him. She’s aware of his mind games, and won’t give in to Malky’s predictions that she will eventually leave him.
There’s a Catholic priest named Paul (played by Charlie Creed-Miles), who preaches on the streets near where Malky works. Paul gets to know Malky, and ends up playing a pivotal role in Malky’s chaotic journey. But how far will Malky go when his thoughts of revenge start to consume him?
While out grocery shopping with his mother one day, Malky’s violent temper is on display when he sees two young men horsing around in the aisles. During this harmless playfighting, the two guys accidentally knock some merchandise from some high shelves. Malky pounces on them and starts a fist fight, before his mother and some store employees stop the melee.
Later, at home, his mother shames Malky and tells him that he’s become an embarrassment to her. She also keeps telling him that she knows something is wrong with him, but he denies it. He just tells his mother that he’s tired. But it’s obvious that something is very wrong with Malky.
Malky has a disturbing secret fetish, which is shown in the movie. (Be warned: This is not for the faint of heart.) He sodomizes himself with a long cylinder-shaped stick, while watching himself do that in the mirror. It’s clear from the expression on his face that he gets some kind of sexual satisfaction from this act. What would cause someone to commit this type of self-harm?
The answer comes one day when Malky is in the men’s room of the pub. He sees a white-haired older man (played by James Smillie), who’s wearing a black suit and standing at a nearby urinal. And the expression on Malky’s face is as if he’s seen a ghost. Malky later sees in a newspaper article that a prominent member of the community who had moved away years ago has now moved back in the area.
The rest of the movie shows Malky’s inner and outer turmoil, as he tries to come to grips with the fact that this person is now living in the area again. It will be easy to figure out why Malky wants revenge on this person, once this person’s occupation is revealed in the story. (All of that information won’t be revealed in this review.)
As the troubled and tormented Malky, Bloom gives a very convincing and riveting performance as someone who is haunted by demons from his past. The question throughout the film is if or how Malky is going to deal with his thoughts of revenge. And in case it wasn’t clear enough that Malky intends to get violent, there’s a scene in the movie that shows Malky holding a sledgehammer while waiting outside a building for the person who’s the target of his rage to show up.
The Shammasian brothers don’t give viewers much respite from the onslaught of emotional pain in this movie, but the directors and screenwriter Geoff Thompson do give viewers a lot to think about, in terms of how many other people like Malky are out there who’ve gone through the same disturbing abuse and betrayals of trust. “Retaliation” has a definite message that living with this type of trauma is even worse than any prison sentence that could be imposed for getting hateful revenge.
Saban Films released “Retaliation” in select on digital and VOD on July 24, 2020. The movie was released in various countries in Europe, as of 2017.