This drama follows Malky (Orlando Bloom) a 37 year old working a job tearing down his old local church. From the start of the film, it is clear that Malky is a quiet man who is shown to have a propensity for introversion, yet there seems to be an undercurrent of anger under the surface. Malky spends his free time going to the local bar with his friends and looking after his Mum (Anne Reid) with whom Malky shares a tense relationship. Malky is also in an on again/off again relationship with Emma (Janet Montgomery), the bartender at his usual hangout. One night, Malky happens to run into his childhood Priest (James Smillie). Though no words are exchanged, it is evident that the encounter leaves Malky shaken. It soon becomes clear that Malky endured sexual abuse at the hands of this priest and he has unresolved issues due to this trauma. The film follows Malky as the effects of his past not only feed his anger and sadness and wear on him, but those around him as he searches for some sense of catharsis.
While there have been many stories centered on child sexual abuse within the church, many of these stores deal with individuals or institutions uncovering the truth about the abuse for the first time and their subsequent quest to raise awareness and bring justice. While these stories are certainly compelling and worth telling, they can sometimes lead to a feeling that the victim’s story itself is forgotten or sidelined. In this film however, writer Geoff Thompson and directors Ludwig and Paul Shammasian weave a story that unflinchingly looks at the consequences that arise when a victim of this trauma has been forced to live with it for many years and has never properly addressed it. How these internalized emotions can lead to destructive behaviors not only for the survivors themselves, but those closest to them and cause them in some ways to feel more punished than the abuser. This is Malky’s story and journey through and through and the film never forgets that. If there is one weakness in the film’s story structure it is that it places so much emphasis on Malky’s journey that the film is not able to spend adequate time on a few plot threads it sets up with side characters by the end.
Another striking way this story is told is that the Shammasian brothers allow so much of the emotional impact of scenes to be conveyed visually through Felix Wiedemann’s cinematography. Wiedemann frequently keeps his camera focused on actors in the foreground with the background world kept out of focus. This helps evoke the notion that these characters, especially Malky, are often stuck inside their heads, emotions, and memories, with the outside world being kept at a distance. Early on in the film, the audience has a clear understanding of Malky’s rage, sadness, fear and isolation purely from the power of these tight frames focused on Bloom’s facial expressions and body language. There is one scene early on in the film where Malky is talking down a replication of Christ on the cross at the old church, we see him struggling under the weight of it as he carries it down a ladder and outside. The visuals and Bloom’s acting perfectly capture the burden that Malky’s trauma has done and continues to do to him, while also using a symbol of both hope yet also the institution that failed him.
The performances are what serves as the true anchor of the narrative, particularly Orlando Bloom’s powerhouse performance as Malky. Bloom shows how versatile he truly is throughout, conveying the sense of guilt, fear, anger, sadness, and shame that Malky and tragically many survivors of abuse feel. This is accomplished both in subtle uses of facial and body language as mentioned above, as well as some genuinely moving monologues performed throughout the film. Each choice in any given scene and moment feels true to the story and character and Bloom gives full earnesty and respect to every beat.
The supporting cast are also very strong here. Janet Montgomery gives a truly layered performance as Emma, a woman who clearly loves Malky and senses there is deep pain in him, but is growing tired and angry with him constantly pushing her away without her knowing why as he has not revealed his past to her. Anne Reid gives a very nuanced performance as Malky’s mother, both seemingly wishing to understand her son better, but at the same time seemingly unwilling to truly look deeply at why he is filled with such anger and pain. Charlie Creed-Miles gives a standout performance as Paul, a fellow worker tearing down the old church who seeks to help Malky come to terms with his past.
Retaliation is an honest, sometimes brutal study of how trauma, guilt, and shame can wear down a person, and in turn affect the people they care about. Featuring engrossing cinematography, powerful performances, and centered on an important subject, viewers should watch this film if given the chance.
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