Approaching a Nicolas Cage film prompts the viewer with many questions. Will he sing or shout most of his lines? Will he make googly eyes? Will his hair be magnificent? Sadly, if those are your main three prerequisites when deciding which movie to watch, you may be disappointed in Vengeance: A Love Story. However, that doesn’t mean it should be dismissed immediately, there is some value in subtlety after all.
Cage plays John Dromoor – a Niagara Falls hero cop and Purple-Heart-awarded Desert Storm veteran, who takes a personal interest in a case when a young single mother (Anna Hutchison) is brutally attacked by four men in front of her twelve year old daughter (Talitha Bateman). The subject matter is enough to elicit a strong response from even the most cynical filmgoer, and a powerful performance by Talitha Bateman works hard to push through the damage done to the victim and her family. The first two acts rest mostly on her shoulders as Cage broods quietly in the background.
An unsympathetic, borderline incompetent judge and a hotshot lawyer (Don Johnson) later, the film builds tension and outrage towards the perpetrators. Will they or won’t they face justice? What justice will be enough for these scumbags? The first two acts are purposely slow, to build towards what should be an explosive climax. After a court hearing goes sour, Dromoor is left apoplectic and decides to embark on a rampage of vigilante cop justice.
Sadly, the final third falls quite flat. Cage’s journey of justice is unceremonious and almost silent. Not a one-liner or crazy-face in sight. The perps’ fate is dealt with coldly, not with the scorched-earth fire you may have been expecting. What was built on a powder-keg of emotion became a bit more of a Roman candle fizzing away in the drizzle.
Don Johnson’s performance as an unscrupulous lawyer, hired with the defendant’s family’s last dime, oozes slime as he victim blames in the name of the US constitution. The four assailants blend into one; making wacky faces and taunting the victim in court like a pack of hyenas. The attempts to make them even more unlikable were unnecessary and frankly overzealous. There is no ambiguity to dispel and the efforts to push home their overwhelming guilt felt forced. Especially when the finale feels so rushed. More time could have been saved here and instead used when justice needed to be served.
The direction by Johnny Martin is formulaic and does lack the pizazz seen in Cage’s recent effort Dog Eat Dog (2016). The beautiful Niagara falls is reduced to a CGI backdrop as Cage and Hutchison mumble into a wind machine. However, there is something to be said for subtlety, and even though Nic Cage doesn’t go all-guns-blazing, wise-cracking and dancing his way through his foes, the viewer will be left in no doubt of any character’s motives. If only the boundaries would have been pushed a little further to make this film more than just ordinary.