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April 2012

Justice

cast: Nicolas Cage, Guy Pearce, January Jones, Jennifer Carpenter, and Xander Berkeley

director: Roger Donaldson

100 minutes (15) 2011
widescreen ratio 16:9
Momentum bly-ray region B

RATING: 6/10
review by Christopher Geary

Justice

Francis Ford Coppola's nephew Nicolas Roeg is a very busy actor, nowadays... He starred in five movies last year, including - comicbook sequel Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Joel Schumacher's kidnapping drama Trespass, Patrick Lussier's fantasy road-movie Drive Angry, and Dominic Sena's quest adventure Season Of The Witch. Before then he played a wizard supreme in Disney's magical Manhattan comedy The Sorcerer's Apprentice, the loony superhero Big Daddy in Kick-Ass, a crooked cop in Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant remake, and a science teacher in Alex Proyas' sci-fi apocalypse Knowing (2009).

In Justice (aka: Seeking Justice), Cage is again playing a teacher, of English (which does gift the film with one amusing scene that writers may appreciate), this time. Will Gerard works in a New Orleans high school. His wife Laura (January Jones, X-Men: First Class) is a GBH and rape victim. In a hospital waiting room, Will is approached by the mysterious Simon (Guy Pearce, Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark), who appears to represent a vigilante group, and offers to deal with the man who attacked Laura. Will agrees and so, like us, is unwittingly drawn into the sinister plot. Everything works out just fine, morally if not legally, until Will is expected to return the favour, which he eventually does after some vague coercion linked to a code-phrase: "the hungry rabbit jumps" - representing the themes of humanity, reason, and justice, which the movie aims to explore. This time, however, Cage finds the unhappy bunny is out of the box for good.

From Ted Post's controversial Magnum Force (1973), and Michael Winner's seminal Death Wish (1974), and Peter Hyams' libertarian polemic The Star Chamber (1983), to F. Gary Gray's hi-tech actioner Law Abiding Citizen (2009), a long list of maverick crime fighters have been fulfilling the urban fantasy of anti-heroes; now firmly entrenched as a stereotype character in American mainstream action cinema. This variation upon familiar movie and TV scenarios blends Hitchcock's Strangers On A Train (1951), with cult TV series Vengeance Unlimited (1998-9), which starred Michael Madsen.

Well-measured suspense and paranoia with variably-rational sucker-punch twists are the hallmarks, ably supported by solid performances throughout. While unlocking the mystery behind the vigilante conspiracy, Will gets his mugshot on the front page. He soon realises that more aggressive tactics of last resort by the most endangered species (an honest man) soon become necessary against coldly-calculating villains, as Simon and his cohorts makes it clear to him they are not averse to kidnapping Laura to protect themselves from undue exposure.

As with director Roger Donaldson's previous movies, there's a stylish grittiness to the inventive stunts, with minimal CGI-enhancement, and the showdown wraps up with an empowerment for the heroine, even as the conspiracy goes on beyond the closure, via its membership strength of numbers. Ever since No Way Out (1987) - a remake of 1940s noir The Big Clock, Donaldson has carved out a respectable niche as a director for hire working in a surprising variety of genres, from the mystery drama of White Sands (1992), and a passable 1994 remake of Peckinpah's The Getaway, to franchise-launching sci-fi horror Species (1995), volcano disaster movie Dante's Peak (1997), impressive US political docudrama Thirteen Days (2000) - about the Cuban missile crisis, to 1960s biker biopic The World's Fastest Indian (2005), and the interestingly flawed throwback caper The Bank Job (2008). His choice of subjects may seem quite arbitrary, and completely lacking in any sense of auteurism, but his pictures are all of an unusually high standard, often with hidden qualities which repay repeat viewings.



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