After a brief prologue sequence that will factor into the story much later, Seeking Justice opens with an example of two happy people living good lives in New Orleans. Will Gerard (Nicolas Cage) is a high school English teacher. Although it’s the type of school in which the students must pass through a metal detector before attending class, he seems capable of handling it. His wife, Laura (January Jones), is a successful cellist for an orchestra. The two are indisputably in love. Will is good friends with the school principal, Jimmy (Harold Perrineau), and the two regularly convene at a local chess club. It’s not a glamorous life, but it’s fulfilling. When things go this well for characters at the beginning of a film, Murphy’s Law inevitably rears its ugly head, and it can only go downhill from there.
And so it does. One night, quite unexpectedly, Laura is approached at gunpoint. Although we don’t actually see it, we learn later, as she lies in a hospital bed, that she was beaten and raped by an unknown man in snakeskin boots. Will is understandably devastated and furious. As he worriedly sit in the waiting room, a mysterious man approaches him like a heaven-sent deus ex machina. He says his name is Simon (Guy Pearce). He has heard about Laura’s unfortunate situation, and he would like to help. He’s not affiliated with the police. Despite this, he and his organization are very much interested in bringing justice to the city’s worst offenders, like the man who raped Laura. They could take care of him. It would be much quicker and less emotionally trying than if they relied on the legitimate justice system. It would not cost Will anything financially, although he may be called upon for a favour at some point. Will initially refuses, but quickly changes his mind.
And so six months pass. Will is back teaching. Laura is recovering, although she has resorted to getting a gun, and she has become a stickler for keeping the front door of their apartment locked at all times. Things seem to be back to normal. But then Simon pays Will a visit, and the situation becomes complicated and dangerous. As part of the agreement Will made at the hospital, he’s to track down a man Simon claims to be a paedophile. At the opportune time, Will must find a way to kill him off. That’s how Simon’s system works: They do you a favour for a crime committed against you, and you reciprocate by eliminating one dreg of human society at their behest. This is more than Will bargained for. He wants no part of it. But this is not something you can easily back out of. When Simon says … well, you know how it goes.
Seeking Justice is a technically competent action thriller, although when it comes to plot, characterization, and theme, it lacks the spark of imagination that would have allowed it to rise about the rest. Had it tried just a little harder, its increasingly preposterous twists and turns would be far less noticeable. By the final forty minutes or so, Will has transformed himself from a paranoid wreck to an intrepid detective, whose mission is multifaceted: (1) Find out Simon’s true identity; (2) determine how deeply rooted his band of vigilantes are in positions of authority, including press and law enforcement; (3) dig into local records for information gathered by a half-crazed investigative journalist; (4) clear his name after a turn of events I won’t reveal. It all seems rather convenient, outlandish, and rather conventional.
Having said that, there are moments that are genuinely exciting, and its handful of action sequences are visually engaging without going over the top. And I have no complaints in the performance department. This is good for Cage, especially after a disastrous turn in his previous film, the God-awful Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Here, he washes off the stink of forced camp and allows himself to actually act. Pearce plays a certifiable lunatic without having to ham it up, which would have been fatal for this material. Jones is not given all that much to do, although she’s convincing nonetheless; director Roger Donaldson even gives her a coveted moment in the climactic final sequence, which makes her more important to the story that it might first appear.
In spite of Pearce’s decent performance, I couldn’t help but be somewhat disappointed by his character’s rationale, which he explains to Will – or, more accurately, to the audience – at just the right moment. Apart from not being very original, it’s also a bit overwrought given the kind of movie this is. You’d expect such a simple, heavy handed explanation from a James Bond villain. This character is also pivotal to a plot twist that’s visible from a mile away; if you can’t see it coming, you’re probably better off, because it means you haven’t seen as many action thrillers as I have. Does any of this make Seeking Justice not worth the time and money on your part? Not necessarily. It may not have all the necessary ingredients, but there’s just enough to make it palatable.
Written by Chris Pandolfi