The action director’s WWII stand-off is shaggy but boasts a killer climax and an excellent ensemble.
Occupied France. 1941. The egomaniacal, romantic SS Colonel Von Brückner (Daniel Bernhardt) and his supposed French mistress Marie (Nina Bergman) are ambushed by the Resistance on their way to secret away gold pilfered from Von Brückner’s superiors. They survive.
Liberated France. 1944. Marie, reviled as a collaborator, strikes a deal with a small band of American soldiers, led by the cynical, pragmatic Major Maitland (Louis Mandylor). In exchange for rescuing her from being tarred and feathered, Marie will lead Maitland and his men to the cemetery where the gold is hidden. They’ll secure their financial futures, and Marie will get to live.
Would that it was so simple. Marie has secrets—some she’s kept by choice, and others were forced on her by a bad hand after bad hand after bad hand. She’s played many roles and been declared many things over the war, and at this stage, all she wants is to be done with it all.
But Maitland wants the gold. He wants his gold. And while he’s a burn
–out, two of the three men under his command are full-on rotten. A lone Resistance member named George (Dominique Vandenberg), who has a history with Marie, tries to charge in guns blazing. As the Nazis flee France, the now scarred Von Brückner takes a few loyal men and makes a detour.
There will be blood.
It’s a treat to see Johnson continually honing his craft as an action director, but what’s even more striking is how much of Hell Hath No Fury is a straight, bracingly bleak drama.
Hell Hath No Fury is the bleakest, grodiest film that prolific action filmmaker Jesse V. Johnson has made since 2017’s pulp revenger Savage Dog. As a stand-off/war movie with slight caper and supernatural elements, it’s a stylistic departure from his previous action-heavy works with Scott Adkins. These include, in addition to Savage Dog, Accident Man, both Debt Collector movies, the action star-studded Triple Threat, and the full-blown masterpiece Avengement—one of 2019’s very best films.
Indeed, Hell Hath No Fury’s action is, by design, a great deal rougher than it is in much of Johnson’s recent work. Marie, Maitland, his men, and George have been worn raw by the war. They’re creative, driven, and skilled, but none of them came to the cemetery planning to fight. Even Von Brückner, who did plan for violence, is hardly comparable to, say, Pilou Asbæk’s sneering villain in Overlord. Hell Hath No Fury’s fights are chaotic (in content, not execution), frazzled, and as dependent on the fighters’ luck as they are on their martial ability.
It’s a treat to see Johnson continually honing his craft as an action director, but what’s even more striking is how much of Hell Hath No Fury is a straight, bracingly bleak drama. Its script (by Katherine Lee McEwan) is a bit shaggy before the main players assemble and the timeline catches up to the present. Its dialogue is occasionally overly expository. But with that said, it features some very fine character work, which Johnson and the cast put to really good use.
Bergman’s Marie is looking for an end. She’s exhausted, terrified, and infuriated by all that she has lived through. She’s been branded a liar so often that she doesn’t expect to be believed when she tells the truth, even while she keeps her secrets. And she’s through with all those who’d lose themselves in their own worlds. Bergman’s weariness is compelling, and she plays the heavier moments of Marie’s arc well.
Mandylor and Vandenberg, longtime Johnson collaborators, get to play with their usual images to fun effect. Mandylor’s Maitland has a scrap of the bruised decency he brought to Sue in the Debt Collector movies and plenty of the ruthlessness he demonstrated as The Mercenary’s villain, but he gives Maitland a fresh, unsettling apathy and amorality. There’s a coldness to the man that makes him intriguing.
Likewise, Vandeberg (acting primarily in French) makes George into a sympathetic if blinkered figure. He’s indecisive and (perhaps literally) haunted by the weight of his inactions and tries to overcompensate to catastrophic results that he cannot face head-on. George is classically pathetic, and Vandenberg’s portrayal of that is very impressive.
Von Brückner’s a distinct sort of twisted among cinematic Nazis and Bernhardt plays him stupendously.
Both men do strong work, but the standout of Hell Hath No Fury’s ensemble is far and away Bernhardt. He renders Von Brückner a man sincerely in love with Marie, but blithely, sickeningly apathetic to everything else. He wants what he wants, and thus he should have it. Stealing gold from his superiors is a bit scary because they’re his superiors. But the atrocities that netted the Nazis that plunder? What do they matter? What matters is that he and Marie will live the life he believes they deserve. His romance is all that matters to him.
No one is quite on the same side in Hell Hath No Fury. It is, at times, very bleak—a tale of greed and wounds and the shabbier side of humanity amidst war, where the most moral person in the film (and its lone Black character, played by Josef Cannon) is one of the first to die. But throughout that bleakness, and throughout the excellent climax (which features a piece of choreography that may well rival Savage Dog’s most gloriously and notoriously zonked moment) Johnson and the ensemble keep an eye on the genuine, on the true.
The result? A solid stretch from one of the great action directors working today, one that speaks to the thrill to be found in creative folks pushing themselves to try something new. It may not match Avengement or Debt Collectors, but Hell Hath No Fury’s a good film. It’s well worth checking out, but keep its bleakness in mind.
Hell Hath No Fury opens in theaters today and arrives on digital November 9th.