REVIEW: Nicolas Cage Too Subdued to Juice Up Vigilante Thriller Seeking Justice
In Seeking Justice, a man whose wife is assaulted and raped makes a deal with a mysterious vigilante organization that exacts revenge on his behalf but demands from him a favor to be named later. If you're thinking that sounds like something that will turn out to be a bargain he regrets, you are correct!
And if it also sounds like the kind of disposable movie you'll not catch the title of but will happily half pay attention to on cable some day, well, you'd be right on that account too, though this film has a cast peculiarly heavy on name actors for something getting a minor release. Nicolas Cage plays the husband in question, a New Orleans teacher named Will Gerard, and January Jones (perpetually bored and disdainful) is his wife Laura. Guy Pearce is the head of the unnamed group, Harold Perrineau and Jennifer Carpenter are the couple's friends. Roger Donaldson, of The Recruit, Species, Cocktail and others, directs this thriller, which goes from adequate to ludicrous but is only ever compelling enough to serve as audiovisual wallpaper while you're focused on something else.
Some of the film's limpness is due to the fact that Cage plays Will in a minor weird key as opposed to one of his major ones -- there are no fits of operatic oddness. At this point in his career, Cage doesn't seem capable of playing normal, only varying degrees of strange, and having him take on the role of an everyman in over his head is a futile endeavor -- he already appears much nuttier than any conspiracy posse Seeking Justice can come up with. (Even the way he jogs looks just a little off.) The one it does present is so powerful you'd think it wouldn't need to bother with its complicated recruiting structure, which offers a daisy-chain, Strangers on a Train-type process. The man who kills Laura's rapist is doing so as payment for the avenging of the murder of his wife three months earlier. He knows the crime that was committed by the person he's been sent to execute, but otherwise has no connection to him. Will receives the necklace that was stolen from his wife during the attack and knows the deed is done.
Six months later, the two are putting their lives back together, though Laura is still anxious about making sure the doors are locked and is learning how to shoot a gun and Will is -- dramatic music queue! -- receiving a call instructing him to a meeting where he's going to have to fulfill his end of the bargain. He's handed a letter to mail, but later is instructed to open it instead -- inside, he discovers photos of a woman and her two girls he's told to follow and observe at the zoo. The second half of his deal involves his killing someone, a man (Jason Davis) he's told is named Leon Walczak and is a pedophile. They give him a time and place and direct him as to the best way to make it look like an accident, but he doesn't want to do it, he's not a murderer, he made a mistake, and so on and so on. They threaten Laura, he cries foul but finds himself there at the appointed time and place trying to warn his intended victim, which doesn't go well. And then Leon Walczak turns out to not be as described by Simon at all, and Will tumbles headlong into trouble.
Seeking Justice is set in New Orleans, and there's something potentially interesting to be found in the idea of a vigilante organization in a city in recovery that's struggled with more crime than it has necessarily had the resources to deal with. "I got into this because I was sick of seeing this city rot," a character explains, saying that he's chosen to be active where "most good citizens are just along for the ride." But the film has nothing intelligent to say about taking the law into your own hands. The organization, which uses the code phrase "the hungry rabbit jumps" (no one snickers when saying this or makes a "crow flies at midnight" crack, so you know they're for real), is large, so large that every other man Will runs into seems to have a connection to it; it's also operated in cells, one of which Simon heads up. The group seems needlessly fond of signaling by having someone buy an arranged candy at an arranged location or sneak into a classroom to write a number on a whiteboard instead of just calling, but why have a mysterious organization if you're not going to take the opportunity to act mysterious? Despite their resources and the fact that they seem to know everything before it happens, they're stymied by Will once he learns to get in touch with his inner tough guy (and doesn't even need a fiery skull head to do so). The vigilantes make criminals answer for what they've done, but who will do the same for the vigilantes? In Seeking Justice, there's no urgency to the question.