It’s not Blue Ruin great, but it’s in the same colorful neighborhood.
One of the nice things about revenge movies is the typically straightforward nature of their plots. Someone crosses someone else, and the aggrieved party seeks revenge. It’s only as complicated as the filmmakers want it to be, and the best keep the story simple while giving attention to the characters, details, and periphery. Judging by his feature debut, it looks like director/co-writer Chris Baugh is well on his way towards joining their ranks.
Donal (Nigel O’Neill) leads a simple life. A farmer in rural Ireland, he spends his days working the land or fixing machinery and the nights enjoying a drink or three at a pub where he occasionally catches flack for still living with his elderly mother. His uneventful existence is shattered one night when he discovers his mom murdered in their living room. Enraged, lonely, and filled with purpose, he sets out to find those responsible.
That core setup is all you need to know as it gets the ball rolling and defines the violence to come, but the strength of Bad Day for the Cut rests in the the world and characters that Baugh, his cast, and co-writer Brendan Mullin create.
Like Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin the path here cuts through generations with fuses lit years before the bloody explosions begin claiming victims, and while the straight line of vengeance remains the details that come into play add character, personality, and layered meaning to the carnage.
The violence is balanced with equal doses of humanity and humor, both of which grow with the addition of each new supporting character. A pair of thugs who arrive in the night to kill Donal lend some of the earliest laughs as their incompetence leads even their intended victim to look on in bewilderment, but this is no comedy. People die, both good and bad, and the deeper Donal digs for the truth the wider the swath of potential victims becomes.
O’Neill does a fantastic job as an everyman thrust into situations beyond his norm. His Donal is capable and plans his moves, but mistakes happen and he’s occasionally outflanked, and O’Neill’s performance reveals a man whose motivation often supersedes his ability. He also shows a fatherly warmth towards characters who enter the fray later on, and that familial connection adds both heart and the fear of additional loss.
It’s a seemingly fair critique to say that some of Donal’s efforts come a bit too easy, but the script accounts for that well with the acknowledgement that “he’s just a farmer.” He’s been underestimated for most of his life – how tough can a man who still lives with his mother be after all – but as many of his enemies fall before him the remaining ones soon begin to wise up.
One of the bad guys Donal’s facing off against isn’t a guy at all, but Frankie Pierce is every bit as threatening and menacing thanks in large part to Susan Lynch’s performance. She’s a no-nonsense villain, but the film allows time for her to grieve and spend time with family in ways that reveal more than just the murderous mentality she exhibits elsewhere.
As Bad Day for the Cut winds down it becomes clear that it shares a theme with Steven Spielberg’s haunting and powerful Munich. “The whole fucking thing goes on and on,” says one character, and as the smell of blood and false closure still hangs in the air we know the violence will continue. It always does.