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No ‘Justice’ In A Cage Match With Plausibility

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
March 15, 2012

Imagine you’re Nicolas Cage in Seeking Justice. Your wife has just been brutally assaulted and raped, and you’re sitting alone, distraught, in the hospital waiting room. A shadowy figure in a suit walks up to you, commiserates with you about the crime — how does he know about it in the first place? — and offers a laundry list of reasons why the perpetrator, on the off chance that he’s caught and successfully prosecuted, will serve half the time of a tax cheat.

He makes you an offer: His organization will exact immediate street justice on the rapist and ask only for a “favor” somewhere down the line. The nature of that favor is unclear, but you can assume it won’t involve picking up his dry cleaning.

To sum up: Shadowy figure, clearly far-reaching and powerful vigilante organization, “favor.” Do you make the deal?

Any sane, rational person would decline — do we mention just how shadowy this creep is? — but Seeking Justice would be an awfully short thriller if its hero didn’t acquiesce.

Yet all the ludicrousness that follows harks back to this one decision; it sets the film on an implausible track from which it can’t divert. The best director Roger Donaldson can manage is a generic series of car chases, foot chases and shootouts in recognizable New Orleans locales, but the further the movie entangles itself with its extra-legal cabal, the more outrageous it gets.

Cage, his quality-control button still apparently on the fritz, exerts as little effort as possible playing Will Gerard, a high-school English teacher who lives happily with his wife Laura (January Jones), a symphony cellist. After Laura gets raped, a panicked Will accepts that handshake deal with Simon (Guy Pearce), the aforementioned Man In A Suit. Days later, he gets an envelope affirming that the rapist has been executed.

Before the Gerards can settle back into their lives, though, Will gets a call from Simon, who wants him to deliver a piece of mail. It sounds easy enough, until the assignment changes into a surveillance job at the zoo, which also sounds easy enough, until he’s told to follow a purported child pornographer onto a city, push him off a high ledge and make the whole thing look like a suicide. And if he doesn’t comply, Simon and his meathead enforcers will get to him and Laura just as swiftly as they got to her attacker.

Donaldson has a long and spotty resume, but he knows his way around the thriller genre, scoring early successes like 1984′s The Bounty (where he subbed for David Lean) and the 1987 hit No Way Out; he earned especially kind notices for the 2008 Jason Statham heist movie The Bank Job.

And once Will goes peeling through the streets of New Orleans, dodging operatives from the organization he’s simultaneously trying to expose, Donaldson’s evident skill keeps Seeking Justice from sinking into sub-straight-to-DVD territory. (The excuses given to stage the big set pieces in buildings like the Superdome and the hurricane-ravaged New Orleans Center shopping mall get a little conspicuous, though.)

In the end, though, Seeking Justice evokes the post-Watergate paranoia of ’70s thrillers like The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor without having a worthy conspiracy at the bottom. Where those earlier films expressed a deep suspicion of government that had seized the national consciousness, though, this one doesn’t even seem that outraged by the idea of a citywide vigilante network. It’s only miffed that the thing has been so badly mismanaged. Not for a second does it convince us that such a group could actually exist — or have its slimy tentacles in every major institution in the city. Worst of all, it doesn’t seem to care. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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