Nicolas Cage and Don Johnson top-line Vengeance, a hard-hitting thriller which raises a lot of interesting moral questions over the course of its ninety-minute running time. In many ways Johnny Martin’s modern noir plays like a companion piece to Cage’s bleak 1999 release 8MM. Both focus on dark subject matters and see Cage play a moral man pulled into the darkness of the abyss. Vengeance packs an emotional gut-punch and works well as a drama and a revenge thriller.
Vengeance deals with the aftermath of a vicious attack that sees young mother Teena Maguire (Anna Hutchison) violently assaulted in front of her daughter (Tabitha Bateman) by a gang of thugs. Cage’s John Dromoor is the first cop on the scene and he forms an unlikely attachment to the family and decides to take action when the gang hires Jay Kirkpatrick (Don Johnson), a hotshot attorney who stands a very good chance of securing freedom for his clients. Deborah Kara Unger plays Teena’s mother, who attempts to help get her daughter’s life back on track.
Nicolas Cage is on blisteringly intense form here. There’s one simple scene on which the camera lingers on his face that shows a combination of pain, anger and hatred which is as good as anything he’s ever delivered on screen. There’s no dialogue. just great acting. He’s counter-balanced by Johnson’s turn as a hot-shot lawyer tasked with keeping the gang of thugs out of prison. Don Johnson is as slick as crude oil, walking the fine line between sleazy and suave. His character is in an interesting moral predicament and he plays the shades of grey with some impressive touches. He’s not a bad guy, he just has to do a dirty job.
Based on Joyce Carol Oates’ novel, Vengeance was adapted for the screen by John Mankiewicz (House of Cards). It doesn’t pull any punches and it offers an interesting ambiguity to nearly all of the characters involved. You can see why Cage (who produces) almost directed the film, there’s a lot different factors at play in the story and it’s an interesting balancing act to develop each of them. Stunt man turned director Johnny Martin manages to do this, keeping the dramatic scenes strong and the action swift. There’s nothing glamorous about this tale of vengeance.
At times Vengeance isn’t an easy film to watch, but it’s a thought provoking piece with some great performances. You’ll root for Cage as he ditches his cop badge and turns vigilante in order to bring the bad guys to justice. Nicolas Cage delivers another fearless performance, showcasing that he’s an actor who is willing to tackle any role and any subject matter without ever phoning-it-in. Vengeance is hard-hitting and emotional, but it’s well worth watching.