ACTS OF VENGEANCE
Director: Isaac Florentine
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Karl Urban, Paz Vega, Johnathon Schaech, Clint Dyer, Cristina Serafini, Lillian Blankenship, Robert Forster
MPAA Rating: (for violence and language)
Running Time: 1:26
Release Date: 10/27/17 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | October 26, 2017
This quick and instantly forgettable action movie stars Antonio Banderas as a defense attorney who realizes the apparent error of his profession after his wife and daughter are brutally murdered. His new thinking is, apparently, that anyone accused of a crime must be guilty, or that's essentially what Banderas' Frank Valera says at one point, wondering how he could have spent so much of his life defending criminals. Surely he must have had one or two innocent clients, whose fate he aided, but that's too little comfort in such trying times, it seems.
Acts of Vengeance is another of those movies about a vigilante crusader for right and justice, and there is the neat twist in that Frank is a lawyer, who should know better than taking the law into his own hands. He likely did at one time, but his transformation into a man who acts outside the law is almost instantaneous.
There's no ethical questioning of his actions, only philosophical declarations. See, after being pummeled in his first attempt to save the day, Frank finds a book by Marcus Aurelius. The Roman general and emperor's writings provide handy quotes about having the willingness to act and seeing evil for what it is. They're as helpful for a man seeking revenge as they are for providing intertitles for the movie's chapter breaks.
There's nothing else new here, save for a few, minor details, such as Frank's profession, his adoption of stoicism, and his newfound ability to hear things really well. He develops that after taking a vow of silence, which he will not break until his family's killer is brought to justice—or, at least, his idea of it. The super-hearing helps in fights, when he's able to tell when a punch is coming at him from behind or when someone cocks a pistol out of his line of sight. Otherwise, it seems like a small reward for his silence. A lot of the movie's plot could be avoided if Frank simply allowed himself to ask a pertinent question or two to people who might know information about the murders.
Movies like these, though, are so familiar and commonplace that we can give screenwriter Matt Venne a little wiggle room in trying to do something different with the material. Still, it's kind of silly to have your hero be silent for a reason that's arrived at by pure coincidence (If he had picked up a book by Nietzsche, would he have given up on his quest, now believing that there is no true law governed by man or nature?), sillier to have the character narrate everything anyway, and sillier still to give him something akin to a superpower that's only occasionally useful.
The main issue isn't that there's nothing here. It's that there is something here—in the contradiction between who Frank was and who he becomes, as well as his philosophically-minded hunt for his family's killer. Venne simply rushes past what could have made the movie intriguing in order to get to the formula for such a story.
The back story is that Frank is a workaholic, who misses his daughter's school talent show and comes home to find that his wife and daughter haven't returned. They never do, and soon enough, Frank is drinking heavily, routinely visiting the detective in charge of the investigation for updates, and finding penance for his errors by getting the snot beaten out of him in an underground fight ring.
A patrol cop named Strode (Karl Urban), who overhears the attorney's pleas for the file on the murder, lets Frank know that the case has gone cold. With the Aurelius tome in hand (obtained after being kicked through the window of book store while trying to help a sex worker) and with a clarity that only the killer is responsible for his family members' deaths, Frank sets out to train his mind and body.
Everything else should be fairly predictable at this point: There are fight scenes, aggressive interrogations (since Frank won't talk), a semi-professional investigation of the crime scene, and more fights in between the other stuff. Banderas (who has been busy as of late, with similar low-budget movies in which he is arguably the best part) is tough and, as usual, charismatic, and director Isaac Florentine offers a couple of brutal fights with flashes of clever choreography.
That's it, though, and it's not nearly enough to make Acts of Vengeance stick out from a crowded field of similar movies. There may be something to be said about getting right into the action, but there's also something to be said of stopping to see the untapped potential that's right in front of you.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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