As I was returning a video at the video store yesterday, I noticed a trailer for a new action movie called The Outsider.
Basically, our “outsider” falls into “the ‘ordinary’ man driven to violence after his daughter is threatened” Hollywood trope. I can just imagine the voice-over: [in deep growly voice] “They messed with his family. They messed with THE WRONG MAN!”
It seems that Hollywood imagines that every man has an inner psychopath/gunman/axe murderer/shamwow strangler lurking within, just waiting for the right inciting incident to unlock and justify his murderous mayhem.
Fortunately for Hollywood, a lot of these “ordinary” men seem to be ex Green Berets/CIA assassins/WWF wrestlers/betrayed undercover cops/vampires, so when they go on their rampages, it’s really exciting.
Incidentally, I was in the video store to return 3 Days To Kill. Kevin Costner plays a retired and dying CIA hitman who goes on a killing spree so he can get an experimental drug to let him live longer … so he can spend more time with his estranged daughter.
See the link? Hollywood says it’s OK to launch a Rambo-esque rampage as long as someone dares to threaten your family, particularly your daughter. It’s the same set-up in the ultra-high body count Commando, where Arnold Schwarzenegger’s daughter is kidnapped by criminals, morally permitting the retired elite Black Ops Commando to launch a rampage of biblical proportions. (Look at the picture above – Arnie just want to retire in the woods with his kid and feed deer. Deer! Why can’t those bastard drug lords leave him alone?)
And again, with Taken, where retired CIA agent Liam Neeson is forced to unlock a can of whup-arse and his “particular set of skills” when his daughter is kidnapped.
If only these dudes spent more time protecting their daughters, they wouldn’t have to go on bloody rampages in the first place.
Even future “godfather” Michael Corleone cites the threat to his family as his justification for heading a mafia empire. That way we can cheer him on – even forgive him – when he orders his own brother to be executed (poor Fredo!).
The inciting incident is just a moral figleaf so we can cheer on our favourite psycho as he mows down “bad guys” in the type of massacre that would have him locked up forever if he did it in the real world.
It also allows us to indulge in our own Death Wish fantasies of turning vigilante. How far would WE have to be “pushed” to take the law into our own hands? Sure, as accountants/journalists/record store owners/supermarket grocery clerks we wouldn’t have any “particular set of skills” to fall back on, but our moral righteousness would allow us to “get the job done”, right?
What I’d like to see is a variation in the moral justification for the killing spree. Maybe “they served him the wrong cappuccino … now they’ll serve coffee in HELL”. Or “the phone call said ‘your call is important to us’ … but they just TELEMARKETED the wrong man”. Or maybe even “they said they’ll deliver the pizza in 30 minutes or less … now he’s stark naked, walking the streets with a loaded crossbow, hunting down tardy pizza delivery boys everywhere”.
Of course, when a truly ordinary man without military skills/mafia connections/supernatural werewolf powers seeks vengeance, the results aren’t quite as pretty. When Dustin Hoffman goes Peckinpah on the arses of English hoods in Straw Dogs, we’re not sure how we feel about it and him.
And it’s hard to cheer on Michael Douglas’s character in Falling Down, even though the things that force him to crack – unemployment, rising prices, urban decay and decline – are the type of dangers “ordinary people” face every day, rather than international drug cartels threatening to kidnap our children.
For my money, I’ve always liked the premise of Loaded Weapon 1, where Emilio Estevez plays a Mel Gibson-type burnt-out cop, whose violence excesses can be explained by the loss of his beloved dog, Claire.
More of that, please.
My ebook military thriller, The Spartan, is out now on Amazon.