Last time Nicolas Cage delved into the New Orleans underworld the result was the manic, visceral provocative ride of Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenanta. Unfortunately Justice is a far more pedestrian affair. In an underwhelming and restrained performance Cage stars as idealistic teacher Will Gerard, after his beautiful wife Laura (January Jones) is raped he crosses paths with a murky secret retribution network spearheaded by the mysterious Simon, portrayed by a shaven headed Guy Pearce.
Combining the 7o’s tropes of conspiracy and revenge thrillers, Justice follows Will as he is plunged further into a world of double-crossings and murders. Having allowed the vigilante society to murder his wife’s killer, Will is beholden to carry out a series of ever escalating tasks to repay the society – how the society knew precisely who attacked Gerard’s wife is one of many intriguing plot strands that is never resolved.
In the veteran hands of director Roger Donaldson the film never make the most of what could have been an intriguing premise. Donaldson’s No Way Out and The Getaway show that not only is Donaldson adept at a handling the conspiracy thriller genre he can also deliver a cracking action sequence. Post Katrina New Orleans should provide an interesting backdrop to the film’s themes of moral decay, but the film fails to make the most of its location save a few throwaway lines to justify the cabal’s actions.
Cage’s character lacks all depth and nuance, beyond a love of Shakespeare and dubious facial hair, while January Jones never gets to explore the psychological impact of her trauma – a potentially interesting subplot in which she suspects Cage knows more about her attack than he is letting on is unexplored. Guy Pearce, one of cinema’s most charismatic actors is saddled with a role that requires him to be enigmatic and would probably fared better had he taken on Cage’s everyman role and delivered a performance of greater depth and emotional intensity. Similarly Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter is under utilised as Cage’s wife’s best friend in a way that suggests much of her role is still on the cutting room floor.
Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the film is the producers’ credit for actor Tobey Maguire which hints that the film might have had a genesis in a more thought provoking and acting piece before being transmogrified into the one-note B-movie that appears on screen. It is unclear where the film stands politically on the subject of vigilante justice, indeed Justice‘s main fault is presenting the hero with series of moral choices but then repeatedly abdicating any responsibility for them.
Liam Neeson’s Taken delivered both the kick ass fight sequences and the tension that Justice seeks to emulate, but saddled with a weak lead and a villain whose personal motivation isn’t explored, it falls between two stools contending itself with swerving from uninvolving The Fugitive style chases to sub-Dangerous Minds urban high school drama.. Better suited to the small screen Justice’s worst crime is that it is unremarkable and shallow with each twist being heavily sign posted.