Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Evil That Men Do (1984)

The ever so subtly named Doctor Molloch (Joseph Maher) has been working for quite a few dictatorships of one stripe or another - the film doesn’t seem to care which kind and just hates ‘em all, of which I approve. He’s the man to go to when you need a lecture on torturing somebody to death with a demonstration on a live subject, and everything else you might find particularly disgusting. Curiously, he doesn’t speak with the expected fake German accent but does British upperclass.

Anyway, one of Molloch’s latest victims is the journalist George. George’s death is the last straw for Hector Lomelin (José Ferrer), a psychologist heading a clinic for the victims of people like Molloch. Because he’s protected by many powerful men from many different countries, there’s no hope of the law of any country ever being any use against him, so Molloch has to die. Hector goes to a friend of George, the retired killer Holland (Charles Bronson) to hire him to kill Molloch. Holland is a bit reluctant at first, but a little session with a bunch of video tapes of Molloch’s – generally only called “The Doctor”, so he’s a trademark infringer too - surviving victims telling of their experiences changes his mind.

Holland has to act fast, too, for the country Molloch has been employed in for some time now tries to pretend it holds itself to the usual standards of human rights and wants the Doctor to disappear from their soil as quickly as possible.

Holland starts his investigation disguised as a tourist. To be less suspicious he needs a woman and a child for a bit of pretend family life. Because the script gods demand it, the family of choice are George’s widow Rhiana (Theresa Saldana) and her daughter, so nothing at all can go wrong here, and there certainly won’t be any kidnapping of daughters going on, no sir.

But seriously, while taking Rhiana being Holland’s own idea sounds utterly preposterous, J. Lee Thompson’s film does make rather good use of her, giving her the job to react like an actual human being to Holland’s cold acts of violence, with all the messy emotions at work you’d expect. For the people Rhiana sees Holland kill have murdered (or are at least co-responsible for this) her husband in the most cruel way, after all. While Rhiana certainly is coming to trust Holland, the expected somewhat icky love story between the two doesn’t really happen, and she’s certainly never coming round to seeing violence Holland’s way.

Of course, this not being a Deathwish movie, and it being directed by the good one of Bronson’s two core directors of this era, J. Lee Thompson (imagine a long rant about the misguided rediscovery of sleazoid hack Michael Winner here), Holland is never actually explaining how he sells his violence to himself via a self-righteous monologue or three; the closest the film ever gets is him telling Rhiana that he doesn’t see killing as she does, which doesn’t sound very satisfying, but does suggest he’s a man who never tried to look at himself from outside much. In fact, if anyone here is influenced by anyone else’s view, it’s probably Holland starting to see himself a little through Rhiana’s eyes.

The film does never clearly resolve this issue. This might come as a disappointment to some but I think it’s refreshing to find a film looking at a messy mix of differing morals and ideas of what is right and wrong and not feeling the need to have one character or the other come on over to the other’s side completely as a way to tell the audience what it is supposed to think.

Apart from that, this is a typical, calm Thompson film, lacking the showiness and the sleazy nastiness of a Michael Winner movie and putting actual competence and some moments of shocking violence that are indeed meant to be shocking in their place. Thompson’s probably one of the least flashy directors I know, but the man did know how to go from moments of calmness to short and sharp outbreaks of violence and action, and back to calmness in an organic matter like few others, never showing many a thriller and action director’s fear of the moment when nothing explodes.

No comments: