DIR: Roger Donaldson • WRI: Robert Tannen • PRO: Ram Bergman, Tobey Maguire, James D. Stern • ED: Jay Cassidy • DOP: David Tattersall • DES: J Dennis Washington • CAST: Nicolas Cage, January Jones, Guy Pearce, Harrold Perrineau, Jennifer Carpenter, Xander Berkeley
In a desperate economic climate, desperate solutions are often sought out by those enduring hardship – borrowing money from loan sharks, resorting to petty crime, taking on multiple low paid part-time jobs, selling your body for cash etc – but for Nicolas Cage the solution is quite simple; take on as many projects as humanly possible regardless of quality, taste or even common sense in the hope of reducing your gigantic tax bill and keeping the IRS at bay.
How else to explain his saying ‘yes’ to starring such a generic, dull and obvious thriller as Justice? Cage plays English teacher Will Gerrard, happily married to musician Laura (January Jones). Their life of domestic bliss is shattered when Laura is brutally attacked by a stranger leaving her traumatized and him in a state of anxiety. Waiting in the hospital, Will is approached by a snazzily suited mystery man Simon (Guy Pearce), head of a renegade vigilante group who offers Will the chance for swift justice against his wife’s attacker.
He initially declines the offer but soon changes his mind to rid himself of his sense of powerlessness and laughable inner rage which manifests itself in Cage (echoing his display of anti-feminist fisticuffs in the dreadful Wicker Man remake) treating one of his students to a full force fist sandwich. But soon learns that the dubious proposal comes at a cost; he must in return do a ‘favor’ for the shady organization in exchange for their dispatching of the scumbag who raped his wife.
After he performs a simple task, sure enough Simon pressures Will into performing another favour which involves the killing of a known pedophile. In a ludicrous, borderline laughable scene in which Cage accidentally contributes to the demise of the ‘criminal’ the formerly mild-mannered and least convincing teacher of Shakespeare in recent film history soon finds himself caught up in a web of deceit spun by the organization, falsely accused of murdering innocent’ man.
Now, this could have been an entertaining thriller in a trashy kind of way and don’t get me wrong I am mostly a fan of Nic Cage’s operatic acting style but it is for the most part, directed and acted in such a perfunctory way it feels as though director Roger Donaldson (No Way Out, The Recruit) can’t wait for it to end.
In fact, Cage’s performance suggests a man already thinking about the next film and its corresponding paycheck. He seems distracted here though he is not helped by a pretty by the numbers script which annoyingly re-introduces minor characters at key plot moments to provide clichéd pay offs and the banal dialogue leaves talented performers like Pearce stranded.
What’s missing here is a stylistic point of view it seems or any kind of creative energy. The whole exercise feels mechanical and lacks any of the moral queasiness or nasty, gut punch moments other films of its genre such as Neil Jordans’ 2007 Jodie Foster vehicle The Brave, Death Wish or even Abel Ferrara’s classic Ms.45 provide.
Some of these are not necessarily ‘good’ films; they could be interpreted as misguided or exploitative even but at least they feel alive in some way. Justice thinks it’s clever by making the vigilantes the bad guys and thus reversing our expectations. Normally we identify with the Charles Bronson type character, someone wronged by society, pushed to their emotional and psychological limits but Cage is so irritating here and the bland Jones playing his wife so devoid of personality that it is hard to care about these people. Only Pearce is of interest here and the actor tries his damnedest to give his character some dimension or depth
A slick and perfunctory exercise lacking in flair and personality, Justice unfortunately feels more like a gift to Nicolas Cage’s creditors than a piece of entertainment.
Derek Mc Donnell
Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Justice is released on 18th November 2011