Damn … John Heard died.
I know that almost everyone knows John Heard as either the father from Home Alone or as the detective on The Sopranos or maybe even the executive in Big. Over the course of his long career, John Heard played a lot of neglectful fathers, greedy businessmen, and corrupt politicians. Heard was good in all of those roles but he was capable of so much more. Though he did not get many chances to do so, he could play heroes just as well as villains.
One of his best performances is also one of his least seen. In Best Revenge, he plays Charlie. Charlie is a laid back drug dealer, someone who would probably hate and be hated by most of the authority figures that Heard was best known for playing. Charlie is the ultimate mellow dude, without a care in the world. All he wants to do is play his harmonica and spend time with his girlfriend (Alberta Watson). However, an old friend (Stephen McHattie) wants Charlie to help smuggle 500 keys of hash from Tangiers to America. Charlie wants nothing to do with it but then he finds out that the Mafia will kill his friend unless the drugs make it across the ocean. Charlie and his friend Bo (Levon Helm of The Band) fly over to Morocco but are betrayed. Charlie ends up in a prison cell, from which he has to escape so that he can rescue Bo, smuggle the drugs, and get revenge on those who betrayed him.
Because of the prison aspect and the fact that Charlie wears a fedora, Best Revenge was sold as being a combination of Midnight Express and Raiders of the Lost Ark but actually it is a character study disguised as an action film. Despite the title, Best Revenge is more interested in the real-life logistics and hassles of being an international drug dealer than in any sort of revenge. Though it is a role far different from the ones he may be best known for, John Heard was perfectly cast as a small-time drug dealer who suddenly finds himself in over his head. Heard gives such a good and sympathetic performance that this film, along with his work in Cutter’s Way and Chilly Scenes of Winter, shows what a mistake was made when Heard became typecast as the bad guy.
Best Revenge was filmed in 1980 but not released until four years later. Along with appreciating Heard’s performance, keep an eye out for Michael Ironside in an early, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role.