Two years ago, Richard Brooks (Eastwood) was looking forward to beginning his retirement from the NYPD with his wife, Margaret. All that changed on Christmas Eve, 2008, when Brooks and his grandson Ben (Johnson) discovered the body of his wife face-down in the snow, with incriminating Claus marks on her back. All evidence points to Santa Claus (Gandolfini), who is arrested and ultimately released after evidence is misplaced and witnesses disappear. Frustrated with the incompetence of the legal system, grandpa and grandson decided to take justice into their own hands, chasing Santa over the river, through the woods, and across the Arctic Circle in order to make jolly ol’ St. Nick pay for his crimes.
Eastwood is true to form in this vigilante flick from the director of “The Hurt Locker.” The essence of Dirty Harry comes through as a kind of ghost of Christmas past as Eastwood coolly and meticulously plans his bloody revenge for the death of his wife. Even in his late-70s, Eastwood has no problem convincing the audience that this grandpa can totally kick your ass.
Johnson as grandson Ben provides some necessarily comic relief in an otherwise dark movie, but not so much as to overpower the seriousness of grandma’s death by reindeer. The chemistry between Johnson and Eastwood as they bond over homemade exploding Christmas crackers is palpable. And kudos must also go to Johnson for his nude scene. Walking out of a frozen lake completely naked takes cajones (even if the cold water did make it hard to see them).
Gandolfini overplays the role of Santa to the point the character almost becomes the Godfather Christmas, rather than Father Christmas. No amount of milk and cookies could sweeten his disposition, but then, he’s the elf you love to hate. The scene with the Uzi in the elves’ workshop is a true masterpiece of devilish glee.
Daddario plays Melanie Brooks, cousin to Ben and a rookie cop who pursues her grandfather, trying to convince him to give up his quest for vengeance and to let the police and the courts handle the matter. Though the character is a little one-dimensional, she does serve her purpose and the drunken card game scene between her and Eastwood is a side-splitting frolic.
Fresh from her Academy Award win, Bigelow guides the entire cast through the psychological process of love, loss and bloody vengeance, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats as Eastwood steals one of the flying reindeer and chases Santa across the North Pole in an epic and gritty air battle under the Northern Lights.
“Grandpa’s Revenge” isn’t just a tale of vigilantism. It’s a journey through the dark night of the soul while visions of sugar plums dance in your head. It is destined to become a Christmas classic.
By Caroline Selby
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