Based on a novel by thriller writer Frederick Forsyth, Avenger stars Sam Elliott as Calvin Dexter, a man who has taken it upon himself to avenge wrongs done to other people. It’s his way of working through the grief he feels at losing his daughter to a guy he tried to tell her was wrong for her.
Dexter is a man of action, and Elliot – with his haggard good looks, snow-white hair, and Southern drawl – plays him to the hilt. As the Agent Frank McBride, the covert military operations man sent to stop Dexter, finds out, Dexter was once a Tunnel Rat, one of those nervy Army special forces soldiers who climbed down into the tunnels of Cu Chi, Vietnam to stalk enemy forces. The Tunnel Rats usually only carried a flashlight and a .45 Colt pistol and rations. They stared death in the face every inch of the way, through enemy soldiers as well as deadly traps.
The movie opens up with Dexter stalking a man down in Mexico, pretending to be a drunken old man, then getting the drop on his target. Dexter goes into action viciously and mercilessly, killing the two men protecting his target, then gunning down the target. This sequence is simple and direct, a slam-bang exercise in violence that gets your attention.
The action moves quickly to Dexter in 1996 (the present-day for the storyline), and picks up with him defending a computer hacker client who is about to get taken apart by a large bank. The hacker infiltrated the computer security systems. Dexter quickly works a deal to keep the hacker protected by having the bank hire him. Dexter’s law career is just what he does when he can’t pursue his true vocation, though.
Checking through magazines, Dexter finds an ad looking for a Grumman Avenger, a kind of airplane. He calls the number and talks to Stephen Edmonds, a wealthy businessman whose son Richard has gone missing in Bosnia a year ago. Richard Edmonds was part of a Loaves and Fishes group supplying food to impoverished families.
Dexter accepts the job. In Bosnia, Dexter quickly runs the guilty party to ground through a series of violence and subterfuge. The video montage of Dexter’s discovery of what happened to Richard Edmonds is artistically brutal, mixing what Dexter sees with what actually took place a year ago.
Then, back home, the stage is set and Dexter agrees to bring Richard’s killer to justice. Unfortunately, the killer – Zoran Zilic – is protected at the moment by a covert United States agency. Dexter chases his quarry while being hunted at the same time by his own country.
Avenger delivers a quiet, steady pace that kept me watching the whole way through. The dialogue was sharp, and the characterization was deep enough to keep me interested. Sam Elliott is a terrific actor and the movie really plays to his strengths. He’s just one of those guys who radiate strength and dignity, a constant David facing Goliath.
The scenes moved rapidly, shifting from viewpoint to viewpoint, never missing a beat, and constantly illuminating more of the plot, the character, and what was ultimately at stake. The elegant filming steadfastly told the tale without screaming for attention to special effects or stunt work. This is the kind of story that could – and probably does – play out in the real world countless times. This isn't the over-the-top excitement of Jack Bauer's world, but a calm and steady movie about a man of violence.
When Avenger first came out, there was some talk of it potentially being the first of a series of television movies with Elliott playing the character. Fans of Sam Elliott would enjoy the ride.