Nominated for Best Foreign Film at the 2008 Oscars, Revanche is that most rare of beasts: a revenge thriller that’s as much concerned with character as it is plot or action. In fact, much of its two hour running time is taken up ruminating on the consequences of an event that, in any other crime drama you might care to mention, would merely kick-start the story. Here, though, it’s a jumping off point for a much more intellectual exercise that, whilst commendable, made me feel like a bit of a philistine for wanting a more traditional example of the genre.

Ex-con Alex (Johannes Krisch) is working as a bouncer cum pool-boy in a Viennese brothel. He’s also having a relationship with one of the prositutes, who just happens to be a favourite of the sleaze-ball owner (Hanno Pöschl). Realising they need to make a change and fast, Alex plans a robbery in the small, nearby town where he grew up. During the robbery disaster strikes, leading Alex down a path of revenge from which there is seemingly no turning back.

Krisch is outstanding as the tortured hardman on the brink of doing something terrible. Particularly effective are the scenes where he channels his barely repressed rage into chopping wood on his father’s farm, each downward swing of the axe heightening an already palatable sense of impending doom. Indeed, the film is drenched in atmosphere throughout, from the lack of any soundtrack to the idyllic country setting, the silence of which is crying out to be broken. The problem, without wanting to be a slave to conformity, is that the expected fireworks never really materialize. It’s refreshing to see a piece that so uniformly refuses to pander to audience expectations, and as a study of contained guilt this is almost faultless. As a thriller, however, there’s significantly less bang for your buck.

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