“Vengeance is mine,” sayeth the Lord.
But not in the movies. Revenge thrillers in their many forms are among the most reliable film genres, reaching for visceral reactions. Wanting to get even is in our nature, and the movies know this.
The best ones involve peaceable characters with no “particular skills” forced to confront their own mortality, and taking the lives of others, in their quest. Maybe they learn that line from Robert Palmer’s “Every Kind of People,” “Wise men know that revenge does not taste sweet.” Not before blood is spilled and tit for tat seizes their hearts, if only for a while.
“Bad Day for the Cut” is about a farmer whose mother is murdered. He sees the seemingly motiveless murderers escape. At some fateful moment, he decides the cops are no help. And with each awful assassination on his way to “The Boss,” we sense his soul dying, even as others try to pull him back from the brink.
As Chris Baugh’s film is set in Northern Ireland, the parable for “The Troubles” is plain as day. Tit for tats get everybody killed.
Donal (Nigel O’Neill, Everyman good) cannot positively ID the people who killed his mother. He has no clue that they were involved in a hospital bed murder we witnessed in the opening scene. He’s stunned when two other masked men show up to do him in.
Fortunately for us, they’re blundering idiots. Donal, sixtyish and hardened by hard work, gets the drop on them. And when the one survivor of the murderous duo blubbers what he knows about the chain of murderous command, Donal won’t be making a second call to the cops.
It turns out that blubbering henchman, Bartosz (Joseph Pawlowski) was blackmailed into helping with the hit. He’s no killer. His sister’s being held hostage. He reluctantly helps Donal on his quest, acting as his conscience as he does.
“They instigated this,” the farmer growls, on digging a fresh grave. “This is not our fault.”
“We may have to take some of the blame for this,” the kid argues.
Cell phones and cell numbers change hands, and Donal gets a whiff of who he’s up against. And in this case vengeance, as the old saying goes, is a harpy.
That would be Frankie, given a crazed ruthlessness by Susan Lynch, years removed from “Waking Ned Devine.” This bloody-minded shrew won’t be dissuaded from her lust for blood. Her polished, patient lover/subordinate Trevor (Stuart Graham of “The Foreigner” and “Tinker, Tailor Soldier Spy”) is little comfort to her.
“Your mommy is surrounded by silly men, pet,” she coos to her little girl.
“If you use the word ‘kill’ in front of my daughter again, I’ll shoot you through BOTH eyes,” she hisses at Trevor.
The bodies pile up — or get buried by a tractor on the farm or a hole in the woods — and we come to appreciate Donal’s resourcefulness. We may not wholly buy in to his ability to take a beating and come out on top. He’s Liam Neeson’s age, if not nearly his size.
But there are a lot of useful things around a farm — that tractor, a sledgehammer, etc. The iron you find in the closet of a hotel room comes in handy for torture. Cooking a meal with a thug (David Pearse) as your hostage in your old van provides more instruments for extracting information.
The “ordinary man faced with the extraordinary” makes “Bad Day for the Cut” (a harvest term) and films like it — the superb Norwegian snowplowman’s revenge tale “In Order of Disappearance” — more engrossing, more edge-of-your seat than “The 15:17 for Paris,” Clint Eastwood’s comparably slack and unsuspenseful, if true story about a terrorist foiled in the act. The one way Clint Eastwood’s true-life story of confronting a potential mass murderer scores over your typical thriller such as this one is in illustrating how very hard it is to disarm and disable or kill a really determined foe.
Movies like this one dispatch them with a bullet, a shotgun blast or a blow to the head. Takes a lot more than that, as Clint’s train ride movie reminds us.
But for shout at the screen, redemptive revenge that you can sink your teeth into, “Bad Day for the Cut” is hard to beat. Even if you almost need subtitles to unravel the dialogue at times.
MPAA Rating: Unrated, graphic violence
Running time: 1:39