1.22.2017

[InstaReviews] THE EVIL THAT MEN DO (1984)


[This new series represents initial, off-the-cuff reviews of first watches. Often cross-linked with newly relaunched LB account. May prove to be the first draft for a longer, more rigorous review.]

Added to: You Can't Win 'Em All, Charlie

I'm always surprised when I see people who seem flabbergasted by how "sleazy" and "exploitative" and "extreme" these Charles Bronson movies could be. Have they never seen anything called "Eurocrime"? Or a movie made by Cannon?

Because that's how these movies really play--this one, his Cannon films generally, stuff like KINJITE, and every single DEATH WISH movie--like Americanized Eurocrime. They carry the same aesthetic. The same bald-faced glee in going way, way, way past "good taste" (whatever that means) and rubbing the audience's nose in the one-hundred-percent depravity of everyday society.

It's the same impulse to leave almost nothing--sex or violence-wise, offending the audience's sensibilities-wise--to the imagination. And the filmmakers acting like they can't possibly understand why their audience would be put off by such a strategy, instead of titillated and/or hooked in.

(What further links them of course is that Bronson made more than one "real" Eurocrime movie ... though you could successfully argue that he was making Eurocrime at a time when they were more noir-infused downers and less sex-and-gore parades; his work in Sergio Sollima's sublime VIOLENT CITY is perfect case in point.)

So. THE EVIL THAT MEN DO. It certainly trades in the bottom of the exploitation barrel. And tries that exploitation trick of muddying up your reaction to the exploitation--how offended or stomach-turned you're allowed to be--by spot-welding the offensiveness to "Real World Political Injustices." Like, it's okay to be this offensive, because it's all for a good cause. (This, another strategy used and abused by every Eurocrime director worth his salt.)

So the movie's villain, the cultured, foppish, obese "Torture Doctor"--it's okay for us to root for Charlie to take him down in the most despicable ways possible, because we're treated--by way of introduction to the man--to an extended genital torture scene that the Doctor impassively presides over (all while giving a gas-bag, bullshit speech about the importance of what he does for dicator-states around the world to retain their power).

This graphic scene is immediately followed by a car-bombing (one that kills the "heroic" rebel fighter trying to assassinate the doctor, and fails to touch the doctor at all). Which is followed by Bronson watching videotapes of the Doctor's torture victim's recount, in clinical and wrenching detail, the bodily abominations he's visited upon them.

And these exploitation beats keep coming. Bronson wrestles a dive bar rapist to the ground by grabbing his dick and wrenching on it--what looks like a big rubber hose in his pants--until the man passes out (he who looks like he could be Richard Kiel's brother). This dick-vice move causes one of the Torture Doctor's lieutenants to come and proposition Bronson for a night of swinging. Etc.

That's the movie--and this strain of the genre--for good or ill. Give or take. If that's surprising, then I'm not sure what you thought you were sitting down to watch.

Where the movie fails is in its construction. Poor pacing. Too many pointless dialogue scenes. Too many action-less, uncompelling diversions. Too many cloying attempts to tug on heart strings with Bronson's reluctant love interest and her daughter who maybe-possibly-probably will at some point be captured, exploited, and used for bait. (Also the fake-lame "happy ending" that results from the fake-lame restoration of this family unit, to paradise no less, at the end.)


Leonard Jacobs
January, 2017

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