Neely Swanson

“Seeking Justice” needed to search a little farther [MOVIE REVIEW]

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nicolas cage

Nicolas Cage stars in Seeking Justice.

In producing a thriller, there are really only three rules: (1) Keep it simple; (2) keep it moving; (3) cast it well. “Seeking Justice” didn’t follow the rules and the result is mediocrity, something that falls between terrific and awful. The original script, featured in the blog I write called No Meaner Place, was a 2010 Black List winner called “The Hungry Rabbit Jumps” and the story was a simple one.

A man, Will, whose wife has been brutally raped, makes a deal with a mystery man, Simon. Simon will “take care of” the rapist and in return, Will owes him a small favor to be collected at some time in the future, or perhaps never collected at all. Simon belongs to a network whose mission is to clean up the streets of New Orleans in ways the police cannot; but Simon is not all he appears to be and comes back for his pound of flesh with a chilling demand.

It’s a simple story, “Faust,” really, but, for whatever reason, the director had the script rewritten to add flourishes, side stories and unrelated characters and in so doing, he became distracted from the crux of the plot and who was at risk. No one is fully developed, relationships are not thoroughly established and as a result we’re not fully invested in their ride or Will’s dilemma. So goes rule number one.

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By becoming distracted within the story, director Roger Donaldson (“The Bank Job,” “Cocktail,” “No Way Out”) allowed the pacing to lag. This is supposed to be a thriller and in any thriller the pace has to be break-neck or the audience will see the holes in the plot, and there are always holes in the plot. Dissect any of the “Bourne” thrillers or the recently released “Safe House,” and what you remember is the roller coaster ride and not specifics on why the heroes are running – they’re running from bad guys. Let up on the pacing and the film grinds to a halt, necessitating some other action to get the car in gear again. “Seeking Justice” grinds to a halt far too many times and eventually it just stalls. So goes rule number two.

The acting is all decent – no stand outs but no stinkers. Nicolas Cage as Will is too old for his leading lady and is not very believable as a high school teacher. His eyes convey that cross between sincerity and “what am I doing here?” and his muscles say action hero not chess player. Here’s a hint to Hair and Makeup – the wrong hair dye and too much makeup only adds years to an actor trying to disguise his age. January Jones as Laura, Will’s wife, did the most that could be done with the role of the assaulted wife. Guy Pearce as Simon was as close as the film gets to a star-turn, but even he stops short of being as seductive and menacing as the character should be. Jennifer Carpenter and Harold Perrineau are totally disposable, although Perrineau, playing Will’s best friend and the principal at the school where Will teaches, has a major, if totally uncredible, role in one of the twists. And so goes rule number three.

Complicated, jerky pacing and inadequate casting. It all adds up to even less than the sum of its parts and that’s a shame because Robert Tannen’s original script followed rules number one and two.

Opening Friday, March 16 at the AMC South Bay Galleria 16 and AMC Rolling Hills 20

Neely also writes a blog about writers in television and film at http://www.nomeanerplace.com

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