Act Of Vengeance
(a.k.a. Five Minarets In New York)

Director: Mahsun Kirmizigul
Haluk Bilginer, Danny Glover, Gina Gershon, Robert Patrick

Ever since there has been what we would consider to be humanity on this planet, there have certainly been a lot of positive accomplishments created, from the arts to the sciences. But at the same time, there have been a lot of things accomplished that would not be considered so grand. I'm talking about various ills of society. Among other things, there has been criminal activity, racism, and warfare. But while such ills exist to this day, there have certainly been a lot of attempts to stop or severely diminish these things from happening. Some of these attempts have been pretty interesting, such as books being written to decry these society ills. But I think the most interesting tool used to try and diminish society ills has been the motion picture. Even if you are not a movie buff, you can probably name a few movies that have tackled various problems plaguing society. When it comes to the subject of racism, a number of movies have been made to show the ugly side of the topic, such as Pinky, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Home Of The Brave. When it comes to the subject of crime, there have been a lot of movies made showing various criminal activities in a negative light, from anti-drug movies to movies showing gang life to be most undesirable. But now when I come to think of it, there have certainly been a lot of films made over the years that show such undesirable things as those in a not so negative light. Certainly, the 1930s and 1940s produced a lot of movies that showed minorities in a way that today would be considered unacceptable. And there have certainly been some films showing crime in a positive light, like many caper movies.

Anyway, I would like to backtrack a little and get back to discussing one current ill in human society and its treatment by Hollywood - or rather, Hollywood's reluctance to portray. And that is the subject of terrorism. Currently, western powers, including the United States, are fighting terrorism on several fronts. At first glance, you might think that Hollywood would get involved in the fight against terrorism like they got involved with the fight against Axis powers in World War II. But upon inspection of Hollywood's output during the last couple of decades, one will see that Hollywood has been reluctant to make movies depicting western powers fighting against terrorism. And the majority of the few anti-terrorism movies that have been made have avoided having the terrorist enemies being Muslim - which, like it or not, is the faith of a number of modern day terrorists. For example, The Sum Of All Fears had the terrorists be Neo-Nazis, and the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Collateral Damage had the terrorists come from Columbia. If you look at the real life news, those two particular terrorist groups don't exactly make headlines week after week. It doesn't take a lot of thought to come up with the reason why Hollywood is reluctant to portray terrorists as Muslim - Hollywood has become very politically correct. Though I suspect that another reason why Hollywood more often than not doesn't portray terrorists as Muslim is that they are thinking of potential foreign revenue with their movies. If Muslims are portrayed as bad guys in Hollywood movies, Muslim ticket buyers might then not pay to see these movies. And there are over 1.8 billion Muslims in the world as of this date.

You probably knew most, if not all of that already. But what I've been interested in a long time is seeing how the film industry in foreign countries tackles the topic of terrorism. I've wondered if they have the same reluctance Hollywood has to name specific cultures that have spawned terrorists. Act Of VengeanceI haven't had much luck finding foreign movies tackling the subject of terrorists, mainly because Hollywood has a monopoly on most avenues in my country to see films. But recently, I came across Act Of Vengeance, a foreign movie with the subject of terrorism. It was a Turkish movie, which interested me more because the only Turkish movie I had seen before was the insane Dunyayi Kurtaran Adam (a.k.a. Turkish Star Wars). I was curious to see if Turkish cinema had improved in quality since. The events of the movie take place both in Turkey and in the United States. A terrorist attack has taken place in the Turkish city of Istanbul. The Turkish authorities, who have determined that the attack was planned by a notorious terrorist leader who is known as Dajjal (Arabic for "Anti-Christ"), are determined to capture Dajjal and his followers. After capturing a suspect, who is subsequently given a brutal interrogation, the Turkish authorities get the name of who Dajjal supposedly is. That person is Hadji Gumush (Bilginer, Buffalo Soldiers), a successful New York businessman who is also a devoted husband and father. The Turkish authorities subsequently send two of their men, Firat (Mahsun Kirmizigul, who also wrote and directed the movie) and Acar (Mustafa Sandal), to New York to help the FBI to arrest and transport Hadji back to Turkey. Though this may not be an easy task, because not only is the FBI agent who is head of the case (Robert Patrick, Terminator 2) bigoted towards Muslims, but there are also forces out there who are determined that Hadji will not be taken to Turkey.

Although what I have just described of the plot for Act Of Vengeance certainly contains the promise of delivering action sequences (which I admit was one of the chief reasons why I picked up the DVD when I came across it), I was equally interested in the movie for what I mentioned earlier, that it also promised a foreign perspective on terrorism. Specifically, a Muslim perspective of terrorism committed by radical Muslims, but also a Muslim viewpoint on the United States' ongoing fight against this particular terrorism. It probably comes as no surprise that when it comes to looking at terrorism committed by Muslims, the movie tries hard to show that it is an act done by just a radical few. There are a number of Quran references brought up that speak against violence, and the majority of the Muslim characters in the movie come across as decent people who just want to live their lives peacefully with others. Though at the same time, they are not naive about reality, realizing that terrorism from radical Muslims is just as big of a problem for them as it is for westerners. The movie does not soft sell the fact that the problem is close to home, showing that radical Muslims will do something like plant a bomb in a car that's just a few feet away from innocent children playing in the street. In fact, in their fight against radical Muslims, those Muslims that try to abide with the law sometimes cross the line and engage in behavior that is downright illegal, like when Firat and Acar bust into a suspect's home without a warrant, and proceed to torture the suspect until he breaks down and gives them the information that they want to get.

But while Act Of Vengeance does get the message clear that there are both Muslims fighting for law and order and those fighting against it, when it comes to making multi-dimensional individual Muslim character, the movie pretty much fails. Take the characters of Firat and Acar, for example. While most of the events of the movie center on these two Turkish policemen and their ambition to deliver justice, we learn next to nothing about them. They are so thinly written that it's really hard to give a darn about them. Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon) plays a loyal friend and follower of Hadji, but his devotion comes across as blind following since his motivation is never really spelled out. As it turns out, when it comes to the non-Muslim characters, the movie strikes out there as well. Gina Gershon (Sweet Revenge), who plays Hadji's Christian wife Maria, has an extremely thankless role that doesn't get her to do much other than repeatedly declare things like, "My husband is a good man!" This character could easily have been written out. Not that much more care was given to the writing of Robert Patrick's FBI character. The character does make a case that terrorists both Turkey and the United States are fighting always do seem to be Muslim. But to a large degree the character is somewhat stereotypical, such as not wanting the outsiders Firat and Acar on the case and showing a subtle racist attitude towards Muslims, like threatening to deport one Muslim if he does not give him the information that he wants. Strangely, Patrick's character disappears without any explanation some time before the end of the movie, which further wastes the potential that this character could have given to the movie.

There are further script problems to be found in Act Of Vengeance. It's not just the characters that are badly written, but the story as well. The story unfolds at a very slow pace, with scene after scene advancing things to little to no degree at all. Some important turns in the plot (like the actual arrest sequence of a key suspect late in the movie) are curiously missing and almost make the movie incoherent at times. In the director's chair, writer/actor Kirmizigul makes little effort to put any juice into the movie. While there should be a sense of urgency as well as plenty of suspense, there is instead a surprisingly sedate feel to almost everything that happens. The lack of hype only works in one part of the movie, which is ironically the movie's only big action sequence, a raid on a terrorist cell in the first few minutes of the movie. The more down to earth approach to this particular scene actually makes the action come across as believable, which in turn gives the scene some grit and tension. Otherwise, the simple direction makes the movie tedious and slow. Technically, the movie is well accomplished. Having a significant budget, Kirmizigul did manage to make a pretty good-looking movie. There's on location filming in New York as well as Turkey, the camerawork includes professional touches like shots from helicopters or drones, the special effects are acceptable, and the cinematography is crisp and colorful. But with all that money at his disposal, Kirmizigul should have at the very least shopped around for another screenwriter for his movie. While Act Of Vengeance may be a lot more professionally made than Turkish movies of the past, to be honest I was wishing for a Turkish kung fu Han Solo to appear and liven things up long before the end credits started rolling.

(Posted November 10, 2020)

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See also: The Outside Man, Treasure Of The Lost Desert, Tuareg - The Desert Warrior