The forbidden lust of ‘revenge’ (1990) – Tony scott’s magnum opus.

Tony Scott loves filming in Mexico for its vigorous and immaculate locations. Similar to the way he directed Man on Fire (2004) – arguably Tony Scott’s best picture beside Revenge (1990) – a Jim Harrison novella adapted for the silver-screen by Jeffrey Alan Fiskin. Film director John Huston (Victory) wanted to make Revenge for 10 years. It wasn’t until Tony Scott developed the clout allowing the film to come to fruition. After the support of producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson on Top Gun (1986) and Beverly Hills Cop II (1988), Tony Scott wanted to continue an artistic journey following the same passion that inspired his esoteric debut film The Hunger (1983). Tony Scott’s version of Revenge in the unrated director’s cut is 30 minutes shorter than the original theatrical cut released by Columbia Pictures in 1990. Revenge is a story about forbidden love and betrayal, and the intensity is magnified due to the shorter running-time. Whereas The Hunger was set in London, Revenge took place in Mexico – a 4th character in a story about an ex-pilot – Cochran (Kevin Costner) – who’s a fish out of water as an American visiting Mexico only to lust for his friends wife – Miryea (Madeline Stowe). Cochran doesn’t have an ordinary friend hanging out in Durango City; it’s Tibby Mendez – a Mexican Mafia Boss portrayed by Anthony Quinn.

Anthony Quinn and Kevin Costner in a scene from the film ‘Revenge’, 1990. (Photo by Columbia Pictures/Getty Images)

Tibby Mendez is a consummate Godfather with a sixth sense that something immoral is occurring behind his back. His characters’ instinct, in terms of tone and personality, is authentic to the circumstances at hand. His disheartened expression is justified considering the way he treats Cochran as a dear friend; a feeling that isn’t necessarily reciprocated. The larger-than-life, charismatic Anthony Quinn elevates this film to a magnitude. Quinn is an Old-Hollywood star possessing wild experiences, coming from an era where Hollywood was bizarre; celebrity figures operated on Opium and Scotch, engaging in the wildest pool parties. Tibby’s wife, Miryea, is clearly unsatisfied with her life. Her exotic appeal is wardrobed in costume designs by Aude-Bronson Howard, using jersey-fabric materials that hug Madeline Stowe’s body and show off every curve. Madeline Stowe’s character of Miryea reveals the tension that comes when a woman falls in love, unfaithfully. There’s a subtlety that overrules Cochran’s mentality; he has this uncontrollable drive to lust for Miryea, as opposed to rekindling his relationship with her husband – his compadre; Godfather Mendez.

Madeline Stowe, Kevin Costner | Revenge | Directed by Tony Scott | Columbia Pictures | 1990

In terms of cinematography, the close-ups employed in the dinner scene are intricately executed, depicting the stronger connections the characters begin to make with each other. Tony Scott used a semi-silhouette two-shot for a great number of scenes in the film. This is what makes this film his masterpiece; the choices in cinematography are used to delve deeper into the surface of the characters’ philosophies and intentions within the pursuit of forbidden love and betrayal. Various scenes have smoke and strong light protruding through billowing curtains. Tony Scott uses this technique to depict the lust that ultimately evolves into a romance between Cochran and Miryea. These cinematic visuals are what become the imprint and atmosphere of the film. Renowned cinematographer Jeffrey L. Kimball (True Romance) used back light and hard light coming through curtains with smoky fumes to fill the air during intense scenes of sex & violence. In terms of cinematic mood, Tony Scott’s follow-up film, The Last Boy Scout (1991) is a mixture of Revenge and his previous film Beverly Hills Cop II, which became his signature trademark style until Enemy of the State (1998) – where it evolved to another level. The progression of his modus operandi can be seen from film to film.

American actor Kevin Costner on the set of Revenge, directed by Tony Scott. (Photo by Columbia Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

In Mexico – adultery is a matter of death; especially if your best friend is the Godfather. The story represents an insatiable desire for forbidden lust that evolves into heartbreaking love. Revenge is one of the most intensely sexual pictures ever made. The sex is integral to the story, since it’s about morality and survival. The sex has an integrity, a subtext and a darkness – making it forbidden. The sensually dangerous ‘lemon scene’ is the breakthrough of the first act in terms of the lust theme. The scene depicts sexual tension with a tease, predicting where the relationship will inevitably lead. In terms of foreshadowing the erotica, the ‘lemon scene’ in Revenge (1990) is equivalent to the ‘pottery scene’ with Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze in Ghost (1990). A restless, prohibited sexual desire grows between Costner’s Cochran and Stowe’s Miryea, and explodes inside a vast wardrobe at a dinner party. The sex isn’t gratuitous, since it was driven by story. The passion between the two in the closet, juxtaposed with Quinn on the dancefloor, in conjunction with musical composition on the soundtrack, is probably the last great sex scene of cinema history. It isn’t unwarranted or needless; it’s propelled by the narrative. Revenge isn’t a love story; it’s a forbidden sex tale with violent consequences. When something is forbidden it becomes more dangerous, and ultimately more attractive; the more the desire.

Kevin Costner, John Leguizamo, Miguel Ferrer | ‘Revenge’ directed by Tony Scott | Columbia Pictures | New World Pictures (1990)

Aside from Man on Fire – living in an elevated class by itself – Revenge can be argued as the magnum opus of Tony Scott’s filmography. The scenes are contained; nothing spreads extensively with rapidity. The whole milieu, tempo and momentum of the film is exciting in all regards – especially the prohibited sex and justified violence. The sanctity of marriage was broken when Miryea committed infidelity. Cochran’s brutal beatdown in the bungalow is delivered with fair play; he deserved it for becoming intimate with his friends wife. As both protagonists fall inches closer to losing their lives, the vengeance scenes appear vindicated; order has been restored, making Anthony Quinn the temporary hero. For the first half of the film, everything is subjective, from Cochran’s point of view. Tony Scott shifts the film’s perspective to the objective point-of-view of Miryea, and her survival in the convent; the only thing keeping her alive is instinctual knowledge that Cochran will save her. This directorial shift of perspective is a supplemental reason why this film is Tony Scott’s masterpiece; his implementation of these techniques are held at a high standard in film directing; they’re not easily executed. Ultimately, upon closing curtains, misty clouds hang over magnificent Mexican mountains with Anthony Quinn riding horseback; we realize this film was a Spaghetti-Western all along – as opposed to contemporary cinema.

Anthony Quinn, Kevin Costner | Revenge | Directed by Tony Scott | Columbia Pictures | 1990

Tony Scott’s Revenge grossed $15,645,616. The Unrated Director’s Cut is available On Demand.

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