My Father Die is an angry little debut for Sean Brosnan, and thankfully for papa Pierce Brosnan, not with biographical intent. It’s true that Brosnan keeps revenge in the family, but only by way of fictional bayou country folks. Pierce is safe from Sean’s bullet-ridden bite of familial revenge, unlike some characters who find themselves caught between not-so-friendly fire and the struggles of living up to (or denouncing) parental pedestals. It’s pulpy, fur-wearing, country fried fury, following a darker path that’s guided by stellar direction from the man with the golden camera. It’s not perfect, but stylish and provocative enough to erase any notion that “first-timer” is synonymous with “amateur.”
Joe Anderson stars as present-day Asher, who we first meet as a young boy (played by Gabe White). Currently, he’s a deaf adult who takes care of his mother, but in the opening flashback, he’s seen roughhousing with brother Chester (Chester Rushing). It’s on this day that Chester is killed – by their father Ivan (Gary Stretch) – for having sex with dad’s “girlfriend” Nana (Cadance Smith, in adult form), only after Ivan knocks Asher out and leaves him without the ability to hear.
Fast-forward to modern times, and it’s fair to say Asher still has repressed resentment towards his father. Chester was his best friend, mentor and everything else. His father – best described as a “prehistoric motherfucker” – is nothing more than a leather-wearing biker thug whose soul was left in ‘Nam. That’s why Asher thunders into action after hearing that Ivan is being released early for good behavior. Motivations couldn’t be simpler – Asher wants to punish the man who drunkenly ruined everything. His father will die for the sins he committed. No excuses.
Thus kickstarts Asher’s journey, narrated by his childhood voice because that’s the last time he ever heard himself talk. It takes a minute to realize, but these are the intricate little details that prove Brosnan’s creativity hovers on an elevated level. Opening shots of brotherly bonding are painted in black and white, same as a shootout between Asher and Ivan – the only two moments where family members connect.
Action is gritty, meant to inflict pain upon both characters and audiences – but no shots are better than Ivan’s boxer-warm-up hype moments drenched in red color filters. Reminiscent of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson, Ivan’s animalistic instincts are saturated in pulsating rage that showcase Brosnan’s ability to bring art to savagery. Every detail – red sunglasses, a wolf fur covering, grungy aesthetics – plays into the story at hand, never meant for a white-collar affair.
The biblical weight of Brosnan’s retribution weighs heavy on all characters, seeing how this is a story ripped right from the Old Testament. Asher’s journey builds a man while breaking another, as his father yearns to be replaced by a worthy son. Two warriors fueled by primal instincts, with the poetry of scripture weaving in and out – and actual gospel pictures if the metaphors weren’t strong enough. Religion is poised as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, represented by a preacher with sadistic fetishes, but also as a judge, when men seek justices that holy eyes may not approve of. A man removes his child from the world (after bringing him in), only to then pay for deeming himself executioner. It’s a circular logic like a snake eating its own tail.
This only makes the violence more…enlightened, if you will – even though it’s some nasty, remorseless payback. Deaths are consequences, not just violent acts. As Joe Anderson blasts away at slick-headed badasses with his shotgun, we’re thinking more about how preventable his rampage is – not the gore and carnage that ensues. I mean, yes. You can’t ignore the bang-up shootout sequences and vehicle chases that care not for innocent crossfire. As Kevin Gage is tortured for information, we wince with each shotgun-shell amputation. I’m not saying that Brosnan doesn’t treat violence with artistic appeal (he does, with shades of Tarantino). Just, everything hinges on “an eye for an eye” simplicity, and leaves a wake of loss that’s splattered not only in slick blood, but also emotional suffering. Tears, and cries for justice. That’s worth more than bullet-time or slo-mo action sequences, and amplifies what makes My Father Die a midnight movie with lone wolf aggression.
Anderson, as a suicidal Asher, plays the part well. His mute nature allows for a more emotive performance told through sign language and fiery expressions, as big bug eyes blaze a hole through his father when fixated on their target. The imposing, ruthless son of a bitch who Gary Stretch plays with glass-chewing appeal. Ivan’s tough-as-barbed-wire-nails physique always positions Asher as the underdog, while the nature of their relationship plays like fated enemies instead of a father-and-son loveliness. It’s a right of passage in a way, as Ivan even toys with Asher mid-whoopin’ by saying how proud he his, only to then counter with some swift kicks to the ribcage. Hell, maybe the burly neanderthal even IS proud – but Asher is a man on a kamikaze mission in Chester’s name. No words will change that.
There are sweeter undertones that show Asher’s soft, human side (a contrast against his father’s constant hate), be it Candace Smith’s Nana or Asher’s soda-chugging mother. We need to see Asher playing with Nana’s son and tending to big mama’s sore feet, because Brosnan must ensure that his “hero” became the man his father never was (or did he?). In the film’s final moments, the following quote it used – “revenge is not noble, but it is human.” Asher is a good man molded by tragedy, but even he gets caught up in a plot that swirls with passionate selfishness. Brosnan never glorifies revenge or vilifies Asher’s choices – it’s a dirty, consuming and painful to watch. This isn’t some Jason Statham kick-ass-take-names flick, and it never should be.
Look into the eyes of My Father Die, and you’ll see honesty. Never once does writer/director Sean Brosnan go out of his way to present “revenge” as a worthwhile venture, as he evokes the beastly nature of such drastic measures. Joe Anderson plays a grief-stricken, unfortunate son with untrained assassin appeal, while Gary Stretch is the curb-stomping, woman-abusing (not an easy scene), kid-killing monster deserving of such a titular fate. I mean, when Stretch kills those kids and chucks the bed aside?? His screaming war dog sends a quick chill, as we prepare for a fight Anderson’s Asher has no place being in. Of course, that won’t stop him – and what unfolds is the blood-soaked warning Brosnan hopes to instill.
My Father Die is the kind of angry revenge film that's all guts and no glory (thematically), told with honest vision by Sean Brosnan.