Retaliation is a lovely, small film that crafts a deeply meaningful story to which every viewer can relate. Orlando Bloom delivers a stellar performance, and the supporting cast rises to his level in every role. It’s the phenomenal script, however, that elevates the film above most. It’s at once horrific, sad, repulsive, and encouraging. It’s not uplifting necessarily, but Retaliation reveals the kind of perspective on faith and the human condition not often shared by similar films.
Malky (Orlando Bloom) is the victim of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest. Now a troubled adult, Malky tries to live a relatively normal life, working in construction with his friend, Jo (Alex Ferns), and spending time with his mother (Anne Reid) and on-again-off-again girlfriend, Emma (Janet Montgomery). By chance, however, the offending priest (James Smillie) returns to Malky’s town, and Malky finally has the opportunity and ability to retaliate.
It’s a small joy that independent films can capture the attention of big names, because these films allow top-level talent to showcase their craft in ways that audiences rarely see. Orlando Bloom gives a standout performance that feels so real it can hardly be called acting. The range of emotions demanded from Bloom are wide and deep, and he traverses the spectrum with natural ease. Most of all, however, he manages to capture the threadbare self-control worn against rough pent up rage for too many years. It’s the kind of performance that viewers will recognize on a personal level. As Bloom perfectly captures Malky’s life in his portrayal, so does he capture the audiences’ lives as well.
The supporting cast is equal to Bloom. Each actor pours themselves into their roles as if the film were about them instead of Malky. Indeed, had the script changed directions, any of these actors could have led the film with the depth they brought to their characters. In fact, Retaliation could have used a few more minutes to weave the supporting cast more meaningfully into Malky’s story. As presented, the other characters feel more like texture for Malky rather than organic elements of the film, but that’s barely a fault.
The script, written by Geoff Thompson, is delightful in its unexpectedness. It would be easy to turn this story into another scathing rebuke of the Catholic church, but it focuses on the redemption of the victim instead. While the entire film is a tacit criticism of the Church, focusing on the character struggling with the damage feels more relevant since so many viewers can identify with being wronged, unbelieved, and unsupported. Whether it’s by a government, a company, a family member, or just a random person, who hasn’t experienced a significant personal injustice or violation that they’ve carried with them over the years? In short, this film was made for everyone.
Retaliation was originally released in 2017 but is just coming to the United States now. It doesn’t feel dated; in fact, it is timely in its message. The US is currently experiencing a cultural period where no one can forgive and, therefore, no one can apologize. So, all that’s left is retribution. Retaliation reminds viewers that vengeance is purely in God’s purview, and this film is being released at a time when Americans need to hear this message most. One might even believe the timing is divinely inspired.