This suspenseful criss-cross of Strangers on a Train and Fight Club gets off to an okay start, but goes regrettably off the rails with a Hollywood-hyper third act.
Nicolas Cage stars as Will Gerard, a New Orleans schoolteacher whose cellist wife Laura (January Jones) is raped after a nighttime rehearsal. A suit-wearing skinhead named Simon (Guy Pearce) approaches distraught Will in the hospital waiting room with an intriguing offer: In exchange for an unspecified future favor, he will have the rapist killed. Simon is part of an underground cell that believes the attacker is a previous offender paroled three weeks earlier.
“We’re just a few citizens who are seeking justice,” Simon reasonably explains. “We love this city. We’re just tired of watching it go to hell.”
Robert Tannen’s screenplay hits all of the right outraged-victim buttons when Simon points out that the rapist might serve as little as 11 months in jail, assuming he is convicted after a lengthy and unpleasant trial. Mild-mannered Will reluctantly gives Simon the go-ahead to take vigilante action, and there his troubles begin.
Director Roger Donaldson (Thirteen Days, No Way Out) does a good job of portraying Will’s increasing paranoia as he realizes he should have declined that devil’s bargain. Simon’s henchmen seem to be watching Will’s every move, covertly entering his locked apartment to leave threatening messages and slashing his tires when he refuses an assignment. Eventually intimidated into doing the mysterious group’s bidding, Will finds himself on the run from both the police and Simon’s own very dangerous organization.
Although the first half of the movie works in a heightened-reality fashion that doesn’t seem entirely implausible, Will’s action-detective improvisations toward the end sabotage the story’s tenuous believability. A nervous schoolteacher bullied into doing harmless surveillance on an unsuspecting family is one thing. Making the guy become an acrobatic identity-changing car thief investigative mastermind is another.
Cage keeps his usual pop-eyed Cage-iness in control before becoming the world’s most resourceful fugitive. His frustration, confusion and fear are most convincing during a police interrogation scene in which he realizes how extensive Simon’s network really is. The violent and secretive group’s code phrase “the hungry rabbit jumps” becomes as disturbing throughout the film as the dictum that “you do not talk about fight club.”
Harold Perrineau (ABC’s Lost) and Jennifer Carpenter (Showtime’s Dexter) have small roles as friends of the Gerards. The effectively ominous score is by J Peter Robinson, who previously collaborated with director Donaldson on The Bank Job, The World’s Fastest Indian, Cadillac Man and Cocktail.
Cage’s last movie set in the Crescent City was the brilliantly bizarre Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. While Seeking Justice is a more conventional thriller, the post-disaster city’s taken-for-granted decay, mystique and corruption are always an interesting backdrop.
[Rating: 2.5 stars]
Seeking Justice US and Canada release is Friday March 16, 2012. In the UK is it was released under the title Justice on November 18, 2011