It turns out that the man -- Joe Parkson (Robert Ryan) -- served in the war with Frank (Van Heflin) and both men were prisoners of war. It was Frank's actions while they were prisoners that has Joe seeking revenge. But will Frank manage to get out of this unscathed?
Being one of many post-war film noirs, Act of Violence displays a scarred attitude towards humanity. Similar to his follow-up film The Men, Zinnemann shows the battle a soldier faces upon returning home and how it can be more challenging than the war itself. And like The Search -- released the same year -- it shows that man is capable of some truly unspeakable things.
Both Heflin and Ryan are more or less synonymous with the noir genre. (They earned Oscar nominations for their roles in such titles after all.) And both are ideal in their characters' shifting moral roles. As Act of Violence goes on, you're not quite certain as to who's the hero and who's the villain in this tale. All that's clear is that it won't end well for one of them.
Act of Violence depicts the horrors of war without showing the actual war, something other directors have tried to capture with varied success. Similar to The Best Years of Our Lives before it, every soldier's experience upon returning home is different but the commonality between them all is that nagging feeling that you can't go home again; the person that their families and friends know was lost overseas.
My Rating: ****1/2