Act of Vengeance (1986)
Directed by John Mackenzie
Written by Trevor Armbrister, Scott Spencer
Produced by Frank Konigsberg, Larry Sanitsky, Jack Clements, Iris Sawyer, Barry Jossen, Jules Schwerin
Starring Charles Bronson, Ellen Burstyn, Wilford Brimley, Robert Schenkkan, Ellen Barkin, Hoyt Axton
Commissioned at the injunction of United Mine Workers incumbent president Tony Boyle, the execution of UMW district president and presidential contender Joseph Yablonski was a powerful catalyst that precipitated comprehensive reforms of his categorically corrupt union and the coal industry alike, and probably deserved a better enactment than this middling televised presentation. Coal miner’s scion Bronson is both ethnically and culturally felicitous as Yablonski, and Mackenzie’s technical direction is unexceptionally capable, but his guidance of the leading star is demonstrably feckless: Il Brutto acquits himself satisfactorily whenever he isn’t struggling to muster exasperation, but his delivery of poorly-scripted commination is amateurishly stilted, years after the likes of Aldrich and Winner aroused memorably livid grit from the screen veteran. Brimley fares faintly better as the fatuously venal Boyle, but can’t quite surmount his own schlocky dialogue. Ultimately, the ladies prevail in this thoroughly manful movie; Burstyn lusters as brightly as ever or possible in the confines of her part as Yablonsky’s staunch, steady, cultured spouse, and Barkin generates a palpably sleazy sensuality as the sluttish, conniving daughter of a UMWA official who obliges her husband (Schenkkan), a gutless gunsel and house painter who she’s cuckolding, to consummate the assassination with palaver and fellation supererogatory beyond his defalcated payment. Apparently intended as black comic relief, the antic ineptitude of Yablonski’s murderers is almost risible, especially when Keanu Reeves (in his adorable River’s Edge phase) accompanies them as an abettor on their umpteenth visit to dispatch the labor leader. Footage shot in Pittsburgh contributes to the production’s realism, as does its modest yet effective period details marred by only a few anachronisms (TV remote controls!). Most disquieting when adumbrating and portraying its protagonist’s grisly end, this account would have benefited from more revealing collocations of the union administration’s luxuriant lifestyles and those grueling of the proles they profess to represent; what glimpses we’re afforded of this contrast infuriate.

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