You would be forgiven for not having heard of Romans – a low budget British indie about a survivor of abuse in the Catholic church. The movie premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival back in 2017 before being distributed to a handful of countries and then seemingly dying away without much ado. Now – and perhaps in part as a result of our ever-increasing appetite for online content prompted by the pandemic – it has been resurrected and retitled Retaliation. It’s a blessing, because this could very well be Orlando Bloom’s best work to date.
Directed by brothers Ludwig and Paul Shammasian, this feature is not the well-trodden revenge story its title might suggest. Recognising his abuser twenty-five years after he was molested, construction worker Malky (Bloom) is forced to confront what happened to him and process the many ramifications that continue to plague his life.
Submitting to physical and sexual self-harm in an attempt to purge his pain, the protagonist often struggles to contain his violent outbursts. Bloom holds so much anguish and torment just beneath the surface, with the slightest facial flicker transmitting a torrent of emotion within. The actor is captivating and convincing in this complex and nuanced role, often allowing his silence to speak incredibly loudly. This contrasts with some of the more heavy-handed dialogue that creeps into Geoff Thompson’s script, rendering it overwritten in places and a little sluggish at times. While undeniably emotive, some monologues might be better suited to the stage than the screen.
A stellar cast ensures the viewer’s attention never dwindles too much. Anne Reid masters the denial-swathed mother who turned a blind eye and every shot shared with Bloom enthrals. Janet Montgomery shines as Malky’s on-off girlfriend, the frustration she experiences as a result of her partner’s intimacy issues portrayed with naturalistic precision. James Smillie also excels as the abuser and his final act will linger long after the credits roll.
Symbolism is prevalent throughout Retaliation, with the central character even removing a crucifix as he helps demolish a church in early scenes. Just as audiences expect the obvious and overt, however, the Shammasian brothers pull back and take us in a different direction. At times graphic and disturbing, yet sensitively executed, this haunting tale is a well-crafted study of actions and consequences, deserving of a larger audience.
Retaliation is released digitally on demand on 26th March 2021.
Watch the trailer for Retaliation here: