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Jonathan Demmes' third directorial effort for producer Roger Corman is good, solid revenge fare - manipulative, to be sure, but the manipulation is done with skill, and the characters and story are respectably entertaining.
It's a story of two opponents, both possessed of an incredible stubbornness and obsessiveness. The good guy is farmer Tom Hunter (Peter Fonda, good as always), usually an easygoing guy but who CAN be pushed too far. He's returned home to his dad Jeff (John Doucette) with his son Dylan (Gino Franco) in tow. The bad guy is arrogant fat cat Pierce Crabtree (Philip Carey), a combination land developer / strip miner who wants to get his greedy mitts on certain properties, including Jeffs'. The fat cat employs various thugs who infuriate Tom with their evil methods; Tom's cheery brother Charlie (Scott Glenn) is just one of the people victimized along the way.
As you can see, Demme directs a top notch cast in this heartfelt film. Also appearing is the delectable Lynn Lowry as Toms' girlfriend Lorene. Lowry even does a brief nude scene that's highly appreciated. Noble Willingham plays the mildly crooked senator in league with Crabtree, and Ted Markland the angry local farmer Hal Fraser.
One thing is for sure: Demme does a fine job of working on our emotions and getting us to despise the villains and hope they get what's coming to them. The film also stresses the effect that Toms' relentlessness is having on Lorene and Jeff and doesn't portray him in a completely one dimensional manner. And while Crabtree may be an unsubtle villain, not all the supporting characters are stereotypes. Willinghams' senator is really not such a bad guy, and things are kept ambiguous as to whether Sheriff Len Skerritt (Demme regular Harry Northup) is also in Crabtrees' pocket.
By the time "Fighting Mad" has reached its climax, we're all primed and ready for the inevitable bloodbath. It's exciting at times, harrowing during the scene of the burning barn, and nicely realized in one major set piece halfway through as Tom commits a night time act of sabotage; it's done as a crane shot. Bruce Langhornes' music, beautiful throughout, is especially effective during this sequence. The cinematography by Michael Watkins likewise impresses.
The acting is solid all the way down the line, with Glenn immensely likable in his brief time on screen. All in all, this is good entertainment of its type, and well worth checking out for fans of the director and cast.
Eight out of 10.
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