Is there anything more satisfying than watching a character take a just and righteous revenge on someone who has smugly screwed them over at some time in the past? Not in this writer's book. I love the cinema of revenge, and Netflix Instant happens to have a crop of Revengers that includes some of the best ever made:
"OLDBOY" (2003): A third of Korean director Park Chan-Wook's Vengeance Trilogy, "Oldboy" tells the tale of office drone Oh Dae-Su. After a drunken night out with friends, Oh Dae Su is scooped up by mysterious men. When he wakes up, he's in what appears to be a windowless hotel room with an iron door. He spends the next 15 years there, in near-total confinement. In that time, Oh Dae-Su trains his body and mind, readying himself to both take revenge and solve the mystery of why he was kidnapped. When he finally gets out, he does both, but doesn't like what he finds at the end of his quest. Winner of the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, "Oldboy" is a truly amazing, heartbreaking film, part mystery, part action flick, part tragedy. Easily one of the best revenge flicks ever made, it also contains one of the best action sequences ever conceived: Oh Dae-Su laying the beatdown on maybe 50 guys in a hallway using only a claw hammer. A word to the squeamish, however: While "Oldboy" is excellent, Seoul ain't Hollywood. If you can't stomach involuntary tooth pulling, live octopus eating, and/or one of the most shocking, taboo-demolishing endings in modern film, look elsewhere.
"THE CROW" (1994): In this dark, comic book-inspired action flick, the late Brandon Lee stars as Eric Draven, an up-and-coming rock-and-roll frontman who lives in what appears to be a heavily-stylized Detroit. A year after Eric and his comely girlfriend are murdered by cartoonish organized crime figures looking to drive them out of their apartment building, Eric rises from the grave with the help of a mysterious crow, slathers on some white warpaint and skintight leather, and goes on a roaring, semi-immortal rampage against those who put him in the ground. Though Lee's acting is mostly wooden, he's physically a dynamo, and did a lot of his stunts (one of which led to his death when a gun that was supposed to be firing blanks was loaded with a real bullet). Though it's not great cinema, it's definitely satisfying, with a romantic, supernatural storyline and a dynamite early '90's punk and alt-rock soundtrack. Definitely a guilty pleasure.
"ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST" (1968): Sergio Leone's return to spaghetti westerns after he sank into retirement, "Once Upon a Time in the West," is a deep, complicated film about brutality, the desire for revenge and how that dog can turn its teeth on us if we aren't careful. Central to the plot is a late-career Henry Fonda, tossing off his good-guy persona in favor of playing the villainous Frank, a hired gun for the railroad. After Frank commits the mass murder of a holdout landowner and his family, he is pursued by an unnamed, harmonica-playing gunfighter played by Charles Bronson. Harmonica, it turns out, has spent his whole life on a samurai-like quest that I won't spoil for you. That quest soon comes to an end in the dusty town of Flagstone. Though "Once Upon a Time in the West" was too complicated to be a hit at the time of its release, it has since been recognized as Leone's masterpiece, and maybe the best Western of all time. The sweaty, complex and dirty world of iffy morality is a nice place to visit, but you definitely wouldn't want to live there.
"MEMENTO" (2000): Guy Pearce stars in director Christopher Nolan's brain-bending revenge tale about a former insurance investigator who is searching for the man who raped and killed his wife. The trick is, due to a head injury, the guy can't make new memories. Just to save you some confusion: half the film (in black and white) runs forward, while the other half (in color) skips backwards. One of the most mind-blowing twists in film is on tap when those two timelines collide in the middle.
"CARRIE" (1976): Brian De Palma's disturbing take on the debut novel by Stephen King, with Sissy Spacek playing bullied, socially-crippled high schooler Carrie White. Little do her tormentors know, Carrie can move things with her mind, and when they push her over the edge during what is supposed to be her time to shine as prom queen, the telekinetic shit hits the fan.
"I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE" (1978): As bloody and brutal as 1970s grindhouse cinema gets, "I Spit on Your Grave" isn't for the faint of heart, but it is interesting to look at as a kind of primal scream against sexual violence and the victim-blaming that was commonplace in rape cases at the time. It's the story of a young writer who is gang-raped by a group of hayseeds after renting a cabin in the middle of nowhere. Narrowly escaping with her life, she exacts a terrible sort of justice.