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6 most memorable vengeful dads in action cinema

Writer: Casey Chong


Liam Neeson goes all vigilante in "Cold Pursuit".

Liam Neeson is back in familiar territory, and its surely something that has to do with vigilante, vengeance and violence. Sounds familiar? Except this time, his latest movie "Cold Pursuit" - a Hollywood remake of the 2014 Norwegian thriller "In Order Of Disappearance" - comes with a dash of dark humour.

To coincide with the release of "Cold Pursuit", let's take a look at six of the most memorable vengeful dads in Hollywood action cinema.

1) Charles Bronson in "Death Wish" (1974)

Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey in "Death Wish".

You could say that the late Charles Bronson was the granddaddy of vigilante dads in the history of Hollywood cinema. Although the original "Death Wish" garnered mixed reviews back in 1974, audiences loved it enough to turn the movie into a surprise box-office hit and it even successfully spawned into a series of (inferior) sequels. Never the mind the fact that the subsequent sequels were both increasingly exploitative and outrageously violent (e.g. "Death Wish 3" was one of them) but it's hard to deny the kind of cultural and cinematic impact that Charles Bronson brought to his iconic role as Paul Kersey, a mild-mannered architect who became a vigilante after the death of his wife and his daughter who were sexually assaulted by three thugs. The movie's overall violent theme and Paul Kersey's vigilante character particularly resonated well with the audiences (at least in the crime-infested U.S. back in the '70s), which effectively set a trend for the vigilante-themed subgenre.

2) Mel Gibson in "Mad Max" (1979)

The then-young Mel Gibson leads the role as a cop-turned-vigilante in "Mad Max".

While today's generation of audiences may remember Tom Hardy's no-nonsense role as Max Rockatansky in "Mad Max: Fury Road" (2015), it was Mel Gibson who started it all. Long before the then-young Gibson made its quantum leap to Hollywood stardom with the first "Lethal Weapon" movie in 1987, one of his best earlier performances was none other than "Mad Max". Directed by then-unknown George Miller, "Mad Max" helped to launch both the career of the director as well as Mel Gibson, in an iconic role as a vengeful cop-turned-vigilante after his wife and child were killed by a gang of psychotic criminals. Gibson was practically perfect for the role; the kind of crazy anti-hero/hero character that would later become one of his prominent acting fortes featured in the subsequent "Mad Max" sequels as well as future "Lethal Weapon" movies. Believe it or not, for all the spectacular stunt work and its gritty post-apocalyptic setup, the first "Mad Max" was actually made on a low-budget. Get this: most of the movie itself was edited during post-production by Miller himself alongside producer Byron Kennedy in Kennedy's bedroom.

3) Russell Crowe in "Gladiator" (2000)

Maximus (Russell Crowe) fights for his life in a scene from "Gladiator".

This is the movie that revived the long-forgotten sword-and-sandal epic genre during the early millennium era. In fact, Ridley Scott's "Gladiator" was so popular back during initial release in May 2000 that it became both critical and financial hits at the worldwide box office. It even gained 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor for Russell Crowe. Scott has no doubt successfully created a rousing, crowd-pleasing epic spectacle that is best experienced on the big screen but of course, none of it would have worked if not for Crowe's committed performance as the vengeful Maximus Decimus Meridius whose wife and child were brutally killed and his house burned to the ground. For those who have seen the movie before, who can forget one of his most memorable lines: "My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, Commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next."

4) Kevin Bacon in "Death Sentence" (2007)

Kevin Bacon is out for vengeance in "Death Sentence".

Of all the movies that James Wan has directed so far, "Death Sentence" is easily one of his most underrated efforts (the other one would be "Dead Silence", which was coincidentally released in the same year as well). The story is a familiar setup: a mild-mannered family man (Kevin Bacon) who works in a major insurance company, decides to take matters into his own hands following the gruesome death of his eldest son (played by Stuart Lafferty) by a group of violent gang members. Wan is clearly paying homage to the original "Death Wish" with a dash of "Taxi Driver"-like vibe and he did quite a good job with it. At the heart of the movie is Kevin Bacon, whose multifaceted performance as the protagonist Nicholas Hume deserves a special mention here for elevating this blood-soaked revenge thriller.

5) Ray Stevenson in "Punisher: War Zone" (2008)

Ray Stevenson as Frank Castle a.k.a. The Punisher in "Punisher: War Zone".

Sure, the movie was badly received upon its initial release in 2008 and it even failed to make money at the box office. But over the years since then, Lexi Alexander's "Punisher: War Zone" (which is actually the third attempt to bring Marvel's most recognisable vigilante character to the big screen following the embarrassing failures of two previous "Punisher" movies starring Dolph Lundgren and Thomas Jane in 1989 and 2004) has managed to gain a cult following. It's true that the third "Punisher" was cheesy and cartoonishly violent but it was also the closest thing you'd ever get for a Punisher movie (although Jon Bernthal's now-defunct Netflix series would be the definitive Frank Castle/Punisher character). Let's get one thing straight: Ray Stevenson actually does look the part as the remorseless vigilante who wouldn't hesitate to dispatch his enemies in the utmost violent way possible.

6) Liam Neeson in "Taken" (2009)

Liam Neeson (right) in a scene from "Taken".

Okay, it's kind of a cheat that of all the selected movies that are featured in the list, no wife, son or daughter was killed in "Taken", except of course, a daughter (Maggie Grace) got kidnapped by Albanian sex traffickers and it proved to be a huge mistake... since the father happens to be a former CIA spy with a special set of skills. That would be Bryan Mills, which is played by none other than Liam Neeson, whose late-career resurgent role became one of his most iconic characters ever committed. His no-nonsense performance is the highlight here, coupled with physically-demanding moments that Neeson managed to pull off convincingly. Back then, nobody expected that "Taken" would go on in becoming an international hit that inspired numerous like-minded action movies featuring geriatric actors in vigilante roles.

"Cold Pursuit" is currently showing in cinemas nationwide.


Cinema Online, 21 February 2019

Related Movies:
Cold Pursuit (21 Feb 2019)
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