John Dromoor (Nicolas Cage) is a Gulf War veteran who was awarded the Purple Heart, and now has settled into the life of a smalltown police detective in the area around Niagara Falls, but his experiences have left him with some troubles he does not share with anyone around him, mostly because he does not allow himself to get close to anyone. Recently he was on a stakeout with his partner when the case went horribly wrong and there was a shootout which left that partner dead, and this has made Dromoor retreat further into himself, but one night he is in a bar drinking alone when he is approached by young widow and mother Teena (Anna Hutchison) who strikes up a rather one-sided conversation. A fateful meeting on a fateful evening...
Don't go thinking this was yet another thriller where Nicolas Cage was wound up and let go, as his performance here was highly subdued in a manner that not many would credit him with at this stage in his erratic career, though you could point out he was downplaying to the point of numb blankness. This was not necessarily going to impress his usual fans who wanted to see him kick ass and go way over the top in the process, yet for everyone who still believed he remained a capable actor when he was not a one-man pantomime you could argue he was unexpectedly effective in this role as essentially an angel of death combined with an angel of, as the title states, vengeance, not that he was seeking violent recompense for something personal.
Nope, it was because of what happened to Teena that he wanted revenge, giving her justice by proxy, as when later on she is walking home with her little girl Bethie (Talitha Bateman) she is approached by a group of local men who start getting rough with her, then commit an appalling act of gang rape on her, leaving the woman unconscious in a barn while her daughter looked on in horror. She recovers sufficiently to identify her attackers, as does Bethie, but the incident has left her understandably traumatised and what certainly does not help is the defence attorney Jay Kilpatrick, played by an exceedingly oily Don Johnson who basically pins the blame on Teena, saying she was selling her body to the four men then became violent when she raised her price.
All absolute nonsense of course, but she has a reputation in this town and the public are entirely on the side of the accused, particularly the mother of two brothers among them, played by Charlene Tilton of television soap Dallas fame who displayed a venomous streak reminiscent of Jacki Weaver at her most formidable. There were a few really rather good performances here, Cage was not showy but he was taciturn enough to be unexpectedly intimidating, notably when Dromoor begins his campaign against the attackers and does not take the usual movie vigilante route of making them suffer a tortuous punishment, instead walking straight up to them when they are on their own and gunning them down, quick, efficient and ruthless. The question we were then invited to answer was whether he was justified.
This was based on a Joyce Carol Oates novel entitled Rape: A Love Story, and the woman's perspective was undeniably present here, no matter that it was adapted by a man, directed by stuntman Johnny Martin, and Cage was all over the advertising for it. The story took care to build up the relationship between the three females in Teena's family as Deborah Kara Unger played her angry mother, which from some angles made this look like a beefed up Lifetime TV movie, not helped by a fairly plain presentation as if Martin was a little lost without his stunts to arrange. But the central premise was strong and placed the viewer in an uncomfortable position, that of taking the thirst for revenge out of the courts where lawyers like Kilpatrick foil any attempts at reason and placing it in the hands of the obviously disturbed men of violence like Dromoor. You could regard this as an unironic endorsement of the latter - the criminals to a man are all vile - but there was a thoughtful quality to the drama that gave you plenty of time to ponder. Far from inspired, but uneasily effective. Music by Frederik Wiedmann.