Mark Reviews Movies

Seeking Justice


2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Roger Donaldson

Cast: Nicolas Cage, January Jones, Guy Pearce, Harold Perrineau, Jennifer Carpenter, Xander Berkeley

MPAA Rating: R (for violence, language and brief sexuality)

Running Time: 1:45

Release Date: 3/16/12

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 15, 2012

The view of humanity in Seeking Justice is not exactly a cheery one. The movie revolves around a shadowy group of vigilantes who exact vengeance upon the perpetrators of violent crime in a ravaged New Orleans that multiple characters contend is going to hell (That the movie was filmed on location is at least evidence that the city and Louisiana are in dire need of any financial assistance they can get right now—even if it means bringing in a movie that suggests the current New Orleans is a hotbed of lawlessness). The hook is that anyone could be a member of this organization, and by the time the hero's adventures are through, he's come across so many people who know the association's secret call sign ("The hungry rabbit jumps") that we begin to wonder if there is anyone in the city who isn't involved in the group in some way.

For some, this might strain credibility; what's more fascinating about this widespread entanglement is how it relates to the movie's at-best questionable but more-likely nonexistent moral core. This group is wrong, the screenplay by Robert Tannen implies by having the hero try to take it down (Another character, who, oddly, is dead before he even has a chance to make his case, is trying to do the same in the background), except when it isn't. No one seems to complain about the organization's mission statement. It's only when one leader of one isolated cell starts to feel that he can manipulate that purpose for his own ends that the question of whether or not the group is wrong comes up in the first place.

It's definitely not a huge issue for Will Gerard (Nicolas Cage, in a now-uncharacteristically subdued—one could argue bored—performance), a high school English teacher and an avowed pacifist whose wife Laura (January Jones) is physically and sexually assaulted one night on her way home from music rehearsal. At the hospital, Simon (Guy Pearce) approaches Will with an offer—to "take care of" the man who brutalized his wife—and wins him over with the horror of worst-case-scenario logic: It might take weeks to catch and charge the guy, who might only be sentenced to a little over a year of jail time, and all the while, his wife will have to relive the crime.

The only thing Will has to do to accept this offer is buy a couple candy bars from the hospital's vending machine. After some mental juxtaposition of his wife in bed on their anniversary and her bruised and bloodied in the hospital bed, he does so. The man is killed in his home by another man who tells the rapist that his own wife was killed some months back, and Will receives a picture of the corpse and the necklace he gave to his wife as an anniversary present.

Six months pass. Life is pretty much back to normal, though Laura insists on extra home protection, including buying a gun behind her husband's back (One guess as to whether or not this fact will become important later). Simon calls Will seeking him to fulfill his promise. All he has to do is drop a letter in the mailbox at the zoo at a specific time. As is the case with all sinister organizations, that will clearly not be the only step. Eventually Simon asks Will to kill a man he says is a child pornographer.

This is too much. The man doesn't deserve to live (Note that Will trusts the seemingly omniscient powers of Simon and his organization), Will tells Simon, but "I'm not the man to kill him." Will's selective outrage here is admirable. He's entirely apathetic to the group and its activities as long as he's not directly involved (When his wife learns the truth, she, too, says she would have made the same choice her husband made if she had been asked), which naturally brings us back to the major question of the movie's own sympathies.

Most of the doubt comes because Tannen's script, like its central character, has no concern for what the group represents. It's merely a gimmick to insert Will into increasingly frustrating and dangerous scenarios. Simon and his cohorts manage to infiltrate his life, leaving messages in his classroom and on the refrigerator at home. The implication is that they will recoup the payment Will owes by killing his wife.

Things go mostly as expected, and Will is hounded and chased until he finally confronts his target (The resulting death is probably cloudier on the legal side than the movie assumes). Will keeps searching for evidence about the group, and the chasing increases.

Director Roger Donaldson's pacing is commendable for keeping the moral and logical fallacies at bay during the characters' minimal discussions of the organization and the pursuit sequences (Having multiple people running into oncoming traffic, even if it results in a close call with a semi truck, starts to become comical) respectively. Seeking Justice benefits greatly from this velocity (also from a scene in which Will's knowledge of grammar becomes a tool in his limited arsenal of holding off suspicion and a climactic cat-and-mouse game in an abandoned mall) but not enough to make the whole, vacuous affair appear as anything more than that.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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