"It's not what a lawyer tells me I may do, but what humanity, reason and justice tell me I ought to do."
Unlike Peter Griffin, I'm always a little leery of scripts that blatantly highlight their movie title in the dialogue. It comes pretty early in this thriller ("We're just a few citizens who are...Seeking Justice!"), and I have to admit it immediately put me on guard. Ultimately, the script is what lets this modest effort down (more on that later), although the direction and some of the performances save it enough to keep you interested. That comes as no surprise considering helmer Roger Donaldson has given us the likes of The Bank Job and No Way Out--and considering the film gives us Guy Pearce rocking a buzz cut and a bad attitude (yes please!)
Nicholas Cage plays Will Gerard, an English teacher at a New Orleans high school married to musician wife Laura (January Jones). Doing his best Michelle Pfeifer ala Dangerous Minds impression, Will likes to teach Shakespeare and "make a difference"--primarily because it enables writer Robert Tannen to highlight "meaningful" musings meant to foreshadow things to come:
"You see what Shakespeare's doing? He's using words to create motions. What kinds of words are these? They're violent words. And why is this important? Because when you feel angry, when you wanna punch somebody in the face, you put it on paper instead! You find words that evoke emotions in you and you do something positive with it!"
Hmm...I wonder if those words will come back to haunt Will? Shortly after the couple celebrates their anniversary (and shortly after Will embarrasses himself with a "Who Dat?" exclamation and macho arm gesture in a bar), Laura is assaulted by a stranger while headed to her car one night (seems her "The city might be going to hell, but we're going dancing!" line was also a little warning). The assault comes while Will is playing chess ("Ready to suffer?") with his phone off, the two scenes dramatically intercut! Will's chess loss prompts friend and co-worker Jimmy (Harold Perrineau) to offer this observation: "Your problem my man is you play it too safe. You gotta take some chances; you're playing not to lose...pretty much assures defeat." (Sheesh! Enough already, filmmakers!)
While waiting in the hospital, Will is approached by a stranger (Pearce) with a proposition. Simon works for an organization that "deals" with people, and he seems to know who the assailant is who attacked Laura. If Will agrees, Simon would be happy to "take care of him." Otherwise, the attacker will probably get off if he's even ever caught. "This wouldn't cost you anything financially," says Simon. "If you did want us to deal with this, we may ask a favor of you at some point in the future: look at somebody for a couple hours, break a security camera, make a phone call...just something that would help us out."
It's at this crucial point where the film stares you in the face like nothing is out of the ordinary, hoping you'll follow along. It loses all credibility and logic is thrown out the window, and many of you will check out. It's a lot to ask, especially when Will agrees after asking shockingly few questions (How does Simon know this? Can he prove it's even the right suspect? How did he even know about the attack in the first place? Who exactly does he work for? How much and exactly would be expected in return, and when would the debt be paid off? Jesus, Will...you're killin' me here!) Not that thrillers like this don't typically force viewers to suspend their disbelief, but Seeking Justice could have set up this premise a little more convincingly. Instead, we're left shaking our heads as we start to disconnect from Will, knowing that whatever trouble is assuredly to come he brought on himself.
And it doesn't take long before Will is put through the wringer, his life turned upside down as he's asked to do some mysterious tasks (the film wastes a lot of time with the silly stuff: "But two Forever bars in the vending machine in the next hour!"; "Buy a pack of gum and come out the back entrance"; "Mail the letter to Santa Claus!"), utter a code phrase ("The hungry rabbit jumps!", which apparently "means what it means") and follow a stranger (Jason Davis) who he's soon asked to kill...but it's okay, because the guy is a child molester, right? His actions soon put the fuzz on his tail, led by a Lieutenant (Xander Berkeley) who may know more than he lets on. It's obvious what's happening almost instantly (you'll figure it out even before the developments I just referenced), leaving me to wonder if any of these plot points were intended to be "twists" (I hope not). While losing his sanity (a trajectory that Cage doesn't play subtle), Will tries to keep it a secret from clueless wife Laura, who clearly can't put one and one together.
I've never been a fan of Jones' acting, and she doesn't do much here to change that impression. Although to be fair, she isn't given much to say or do--and just when you think Laura will stop being stupid and show us some grit, the script arrives just in time to knock her down a peg. Given all that she's been through and is aware of, her trust of a complete stranger flashing a badge is insane--and I had to laugh toward the end when it finally looked like this pattern would change, only to come to an abrupt, painful halt. Jones and Cage have zero chemistry together (she's still too wooden for me), and the dialogue between the two can be awful: "I talked to the police this morning," notes Will after the attack. "They caught the rapist." That simple, seemingly meaningless line alone is staggering in its phoniness. What loving husband would phrase something like that to his wife after she was raped? "They caught the rapist..." Huh?! (Shortly thereafter, we get this robotic exchange: "I sound like a crazy person," says a jittery Laura. "No," counters Will. "You sound like a person who's getting over something difficult.")
The script also throws in some ultimately pointless interactions between Will and one of his troubled students, a thread that doesn't really do anything other than manufacture a quick "message" (ditto the faint allusions to the lawless New Orleans, a point that was injected just because). Also forcing the point are the "clues" that Will starts to uncover while on the run, including a book (Edmund Burke's A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful) and a note that he uncovers while--get this--easily breaking into a newsroom at night. If that weren't ridiculous enough, I take huge issue with another detail in that scene: The newsroom is empty. Look, I know newspapers are on the decline...but no newsroom is going to be barren in the middle of the night! Hell, I worked at my college paper, and there was always lots of activity there no matter what time it was (although at least the scene includes the film's most amusing moment).
Perhaps that's a decision necessitated by a smaller budget, and it's clear Donaldson makes the most of what he's working with in other scenes, too (including a freeway chase that is more effective than it should be). Seeking Justice is well made from a technical standpoint, and certainly keeps the ball rolling quickly enough to engage you--it's sort of like a poor man's Liam Neeson thriller (think Taken or Unknown), which are themselves poor man versions of A-list thrillers. The film fancies itself a lightweight mix of The Game, A History of Violence and Fight Club, but doesn't have a strong enough identity to stand out. And when you throw in the "Reveals!" brought about by a few characters, it's already small scope collapses even further as it raises logic questions that simply can't be explained.
There's potential for a much better film within here. Nonetheless, it's still good enough to combat a night home alone. And remember...it has Guy Pearce being all sexy and badass. And really...isn't that enough?
The anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer is solid looking overall; this is a dark film, with a dim tint throughout that keeps colors a tad muted. But detail is solid.
The 5.1 track assert itself well in various sequences, with dialogue always solid. Subtitles arrive in English SDH and Spanish.
In addition to the film's trailer, a short Behind the Scenes featurette is included--its 7 minutes considerably shorter when you take out the included film clips. Cage is on board to talk about the cast and director, and the film's philosophical message about the primitive caveman roots that lurk in all of us. But there's not much to maintain your interest; director Roger Donaldson sadly doesn't add much at all (too much plot reciting), ditto January Jones and Harold Perrineau. It's a wasted opportunity.
Director Roger Donaldson has given us some fantastic thrillers in his career, and his skill behind the camera raises this so-so entry just enough to keep you engaged. Nicholas Cage does his Nicholas Cage thing (overdoing it a smidge), January Jones does her January Jones thing (underdoing it a lot), and the script does neither of them any favors. Still, it moves fast enough to help you forgive its missteps, and any film with Guy Pearce in it is worth your time. Rent it.