Written by Michael Biehn, based on a story by Reed Lackey
Directed by Michael Biehn
For years, Michael Biehn has been of the most interesting and versatile actors in genre cinema, while paradoxically one of the most misused. Capable of playing the hero, anti-hero or stone cold villain, Biehn has the charism and acting chops of a character actor with the chiseled good lucks of a star. Why this hasn’t translated into Biehn being one of the biggest action heroes of all time is an enduring mystery.
“I’m a working actor, and I’m always working, but there is a difference between a part and a great part. Mickey in The Divide was a great part. Johnny Ringo in Tombstone was a great part, but there is almost a twenty year gap there.”
It is almost a relief to see that Michael Biehn is taking the initiative to create great parts for himself, producing, writing, directing and starring in The Victim, a fun grindhouse flick that was shot in 12 days.
“I spent more time on the set of Tombstone practicing Johnny Ringo’s gun stunts than the entire shooting schedule for The Victim.”
Made for less than a day’s worth of craft services on a bloated epic like Battleship, The Victim puts the focus squarely on character and story.
“I negotiated to have – within my budget – full authority to hire who I want, cast who I want, shoot where and how I want, and cut the film the way I want. I get to decide when to release the film, when to sell it and for how much. I have the James Cameron contract on the Roger Corman budget.”
The film has a great, shocking opening and a dynamite character-based ending.
The set-up is that Kyle (Michael Biehn), released from prison after 6 years for manslaughter, has retreated from civilization to his elderly uncle’s cabin to figure out how to fit back into society – watching self-help videos and reading how-to books. When Annie (Jennifer Blanc-Biehn) comes banging on his door with a crazy story about being pursued by a couple of cops (Ryan Honey and Denny Kirkwood), one of whom killed her best friend Mary (Danielle Harris), Kyle is understandably reluctant to get involved.
“Reed (Lackey) brought me this story, more like a novella than a script – very descriptive, no dialogue – and it was basically Saw in the woods. I wasn’t interested in doing that, but working with Roberto Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino introduced me to the idea of doing films in a grindhouse style. I was reading Rebel Without A Crew and it occurred to me that if we took Reed’s story and rewrote it – and it was a Page One rewrite – maybe we could raise some money and make this ourselves.”
Acting in the film is solid to great. Jennifer Blanc-Biehn and Danielle Harris are both great as the strippers whose party in the woods with a couple of cops turns deadly.
“Danielle is a good friend – my best friend. The part of Mary wasn’t really a role, but when Danielle was interested in being in the film, we found a way to make Mary a real character, a real role for her to play.”
Perhaps predictably, Michael Biehn is fantastic as Kyle, the complex loner with a past, who is dragged into a police vs. stripper melodrama very much against his will.
“As an actor, your responsibility is to be a color on the palette. Say my character is Red. It’s up to me to find all the possible shadings for Red, to be the brightest or darkest Red that I can be. As a director, this way, we get to be the painter.”
The film is not without its blemishes beauty-marks faults. Most of these are what you would expect from a first time director with all the creative tools possible at his disposable… except time and money.
The dialogue doesn’t quite work, not so much because it is bad, as there is too much of it. On a couple of occasions, Kyle semi-loses it and roars at everyone to shut up. When Kyle does so, the audience is completely in agreement, if not impatient for him to put a lid on the other characters.
“We were writing the script in pre-production, which was not ideal. In fact, we were still creating pages when the shooting started.”
The structure of the flashbacks causes a small problem, because we learn that Annie is telling the truth before Kyle does. Intellectually, we understand Kyle’s suspicion and reluctance to get involved, but emotionally we are on Annie’s side and somewhat annoyed that Kyle is slow to join the team.
The final quibble may seem the smallest nit to pick, but is my mind the most serious problem with the film. Too much of the editing is on the nose – on the beat. Mel Brooks gave a fascinating interview recently about directing. He talked about starting his entertainment career as a drummer and how percussion influenced his jokes and his films.
“Some punch lines should be on the offbeat; they shouldn’t be right on the beat because they’ll get sour. There’s a thing called syncopation, in which you feature the offbeat instead of the beat itself. The offbeat is the after-beat. And you wait, and hit it on the after-beat. So I was a real big fan of syncopation and it carried on into my movies—into my writing and my direction.”
Editing in a rhythm that hits the beat makes an audience comfortable. Comedy, horror and grindhouse are linked in that part of the goal of all three is keeping the audience off balance.
What propels The Victim above these minor quibbles is the sense that everyone in the film is making terrible choices like the characters in Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan or the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple.
“I have made five films with Bill Paxton. I think his part in A Simple Plan is the best work that he has ever done.”
In a sense, everyone in the film (except Kyle) is acting “blood simple” after the murder of Mary. Kyle has a history of making bad choices, hence the self-help videos, and he doesn’t exactly make good choices in The Victim, but he does make significantly better decisions than everyone else in the film. Kyle finds himself in the very rare place of having the best life experience to deal with the situation that he fins himself in; in the land of the blind, Kyle is the one-eyed king.
“If you don’t like fighting and fucking, get out of the theatre!”
-Michael Biehn and Jennifer Blanc-Biehn
Like the best grindhouse, The Victim rides the knife blade between intentional and unintentional comedy, turning deadly serious on the edge of a very thin dime. Kyle is one of the most complex and interesting grindhouse heroes, brought to rugged life by one of our great action actors.
– Michael Ryan