Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Evil That Men Do

The Evil That Men Do sticks out prominently in my mind. Most likely, it is because I first saw it late one night on Cinemax back when I was way too young to be watching something like it. What can I say? I was never a sheltered kid. How else could I become so jaded today?

It does truly pai me to list a Charles Bronson movie as the worst film I have ever seen. Pre-Death Wish, Bronson’s tough guy act was the best in Hollywood. See The Battle of the Bulge, the Dirty Dozen, The Valachi papers, the mechanic, and Mr. Majestik as evidence. But as he got older, the budgets became smaller, the scripts worse, and the movies seedier. The Evil That Men Do from 1984 is a sad example.

There are loads of problems with the film, but they can all be boiled down to good intentions poorly executed. Did is say poorly? I meant tragically.

The film is about a Welsh doctor who becomes fascinated by torture. He uses his medical skills as a torturer for hire for any fly by night dictator who has the money. When a journalist friend of retired CIA assassin known only as Holland (Bronson) is tortured to death by the Doctor, (Not a typo. That is what he is referred as the entire film.) Holland agrees to come out of retirement and kill him.

The script is adapted from the novel by R. lance Hill. It is far less exploitive than the filmed version. Remember this was the time period when Hollywood and the music industry was behind Amnesty international’s effort to prevent the United States from supporting brutal Latin American dictators and looked the other way when tortured their own people because they were battling communist elements, real or imagined. There were good efforts to attract attention to the issue. This movie is not oe of them.

For one, it is gruesome without creating a sense of sympathy. In the first few minutes, the journalist is brutally tortured to death by slow electrocution. It is difficult to watch and the only act of violence done in earnest. Later, you are either beaten over the idea with further torture when Holland watches video interviews of survivors describig torture they suffered or cheap special effects like when Holland throws a henchman off a balcony with a fire hose wrapped around his throat. It is hilarious obvious it is a dummy hanging limp. Even the Doctor’s inevitable death at the hands of a mob of villagers is fake and anticlimactic. You do not get sense of justice out of it.

Other elements are done for the dumbest of reasons. The doctor’s sister is a fifty year old lesbian for the sole purpose of having her and her girlfriend make love on a bed Holland is trapped beneath. A film like this needs comic relief, but not marx Brothers level absurdity in that vein.
Another problem is the casting. Bronson was 61 at the time. His age was showing. Holland was played as an a quiet, unassuming man who was prone to extreme acts of violence when provoked, then would go back to his normal demeanor. His dramatic shift supposed to be a shock, but it came across more as a guy who is sufferi mood swigs after a stroke.

The Doctor is played starkly against cast by Joseph Mayer. He was a British actor who most often played the stereotypical stiff upper lip type, usually with a comedic twist. You would expect to see him as an English professor dating one of The Golden Girls, not attaching jumper cables to a dissident’s genitals while wearing an executioner’s mask. He just does not work here.

Other changes are just sloppy. In the novel, the Doctor is a Nazi protégé of Josef Megele who has escaped capture into the modern day. Presumably, the Doctor’s background was changed to fit better with Maher’s age, but the story element that the Doctor was eing pursued by the Mosad was left in. it is true the Mossad could still be hunting the guy anyway, but it makes less sense to me he is a bored doctor who gets his jollies torturing people than an escaped Nazi who honed his craft on concentration camp inmates decades before.

You get the idea. The filmmaker’s heart might have bee in the right place, but where his mind was is anybody’s guess.

Rating: * (out of 5)

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