This is one of the movies that I snuck into at 12 years of age when I was supposed to be seeing whatever PG-rated movie happened to be starting around the same time at that theater on that day. At this this age, though I had been exposed to a significant amount of violence in other movies I also wasn’t supposed to have watched, I was not mature enough to fully grasp the story of this film and, though there were parts I had liked, I left the theater somewhat bored by the whole experience. This was not an uncommon experience for me. All regular moviegoers have their hits and misses and, from the time I was first allowed to attend a movie by myself, I was as regular a moviegoer as humanly possible.
Probably 15 years passed before I saw this movie again on television. And, though obviously edited for broadcast, I had one of those moments you get to have once in a while with a movie you didn’t “get” the first time around. Once I’d finished watching it, I was taken aback by the intelligence and depth I hadn’t seen before, and it has continued to get better with each successive viewing. On the surface, this appears to be an action / revenge movie with a somewhat weak and/or obscure plot that doesn’t really take off. That’s what you’ll see if you go into this looking for an action movie. You will be disappointed.
But if you change your perspective and expectation, you see something else emerge entirely. Something crafted with such a simple brilliance that it is a joy to watch. A joy from an intellectual perspective, not from gratification for some kind of revenge fantasy film. This is not the story of a man getting even with some of the more annoying parts of life we weather regularly. It is the story of a regular guy, a guy you might see anywhere. Maybe even sitting next to you in traffic. A working stiff who has done everything he’s been told he should do, made the compromises most of us have come to except as part of life and his life has still fallen apart.
He doesn’t see his part in the procession of negative actions that brought him here, so he is desperately looking for anyone to blame, at least in part, for how he has been wronged. In doing this we see a parade of different symbolic characters representing some of the more frustrating, infuriating and terrifying parts of life that your average person either is or could potentially be subjected to just by the fact that they are part of the society in which we live. However, none of these potential scapegoats, though it is hard to feel bad for some of them, are the actual cause of our lead character’s problems.
We come to learn that his problems began long ago and they began within him, not by being wronged by outside sources. And today just happened to be the day that this seemingly average guy, sitting next to the rest of these average people in traffic, just snapped. This movie is about a journey that is physical, mental and emotional. As William “D-Fens” Foster (Michael Douglas) makes his way, on foot, across the city to see his daughter on her birthday, we also watch his sanity, compassion and self-control slowly start to unravel. This is NOT an action movie. It is psychological, suspenseful at times, intelligent and challenging. There are times you are pulling for Douglas’ character, and there are times you’re against him. It really is quite a ride with an absolutely pitch-perfect ending that will not leave you the least bit disappointed.
Rating: 5 Stars