Nicolas Cage is a most accomplished actor. Every now and then it’s good to remind oneself of this simple fact. In “Wild at Heart” he’s bounding with charisma, delivering a mesmeric performance. “Raising Arizona” showcases his comic adroitness in an enjoyably quirky turn. For 1995’s “Leaving Las Vegas” the man won a well-deserved Academy Award. His star which saw a blindingly bright 1980’s birth and triumphal 90’s ascendency has sadly been consumed by a supermassive black hole of pure awful in the noughties.
Cages’ cinematic output over the past decade could be likened to that of a scat stained blanket, one with scarce few unsullied patches. It’s not enough to be spasmodically brilliant, career consistency is the key. Whether due to an unholy confluence of poor judgement and a desire for a quick payday or simply no longer giving a rat’s ass, Oscar® secured, old Nic has elevated phoning it in to a bona fide art form of late. How difficult it is to reconcile the blistering, raw talent of yesteryear with the pantomime self-parody of today.
His inexorable descent into the bowels of filmic purgatory arguably began with the disaster that was Neil LaBute’s ill-conceived “Wicker Man” reboot but now Cage is in full-fledged freefall towards an abyss of irrelevance. A single word film title and Nicholas Cage billing virtually guarantees 100 soul destroying minutes of toe-curling tedium. If like me you desperately want to see a Cage flick and not have every negative preconception validated before the credits roll, you’ll be sorry to hear his latest “Justice” follows the same sorry trend, sucking the proverbial big one...raw.
High school teacher Will Gerard (Cage) becomes embroiled with a vigilante group following the vicious assault and rape of his wife Laura (January Jones). When visiting his beloved in hospital distraught Will is approached by sinister Simon (Guy Pearce) who makes a morally ambiguous offer. Righteous retribution will be meted out by a coterie of concerned citizens, the rapist slain, to hell with due process and all that malarkey if only Will agrees to pay it forward and assist Simons group in the future.
An “I put a bullet in the back of your tormenter if you scratch mine” kind of deal. In his a moment of weakness our despairing Will consents to the killing but when the time comes to live up to his end of the bargain he swiftly realises Simon & Co. aren’t the idealistic guardians of civic morality they purport themselves to be. Shit gets real. People are chased. The audience becomes quickly bored.
A contrived, exposition-laden script somehow manages to say less than Death Wish ever did about the moral twilight of vigilante justice. Cage runs hither and thither around post-Katrina New Orleans’s face-palming himself in shock at every revelation whilst evading baddies who are bad by virtue of their shaven heads, scars and googly eyes - welcome to clichésville.
Inept, heavy-handed narrative devices abound. Picture this. We’ve has just seen Gerard’s bedraggled wife in intensive care post sexual assault. Our protagonist is approached by Simon. An opportunity for vengeance is proffered. Gerard rejects it with steel in his eyes, resolute in his moral convictions. Cut to a short flashback montage of the preceding scene depicting battered wifey and upset hubby. Gerard then accepts Simons offer. Congratulations director Roger Donaldson, you’ve just insulted your audience.
Then we have some staggeringly ineffective scenes attempting to build tension such as Gerard’s bizarre requirement to walk up to one of the hospitals vending machines and purchase a particular candy bar as a token of his consent. He approaches agonisingly slow, being casually observed by a security guard who couldn’t possibly have the slightest notion as to the meaning behind this inane ritual. Yet it’s played in all seriousness, we’re actually supposed to find such a sequence suspenseful.
“Justice” is a morose, plodding procedural whereby our hero slowly penetrates the veil of secrecy surrounding the group’s nefarious activities. Very little action punctuates the sedentary sleuthing save the odd vehicular crushing and burst of gunfire as a thoroughly bored Cage evades the clutches of a bunch of Tyler Durden rejects and the law.
A bald-pated Guy Pearce brings some semblance of menace to the proceedings, January Jones as the imperilled wife just needs to look pretty and succeeds in doing so while an ornate hat stand could deliver a more engaging turn than our main star in this sedate man on the run flick.
Give me camp, scenery chewing Cage over the somnambulating Cage any day. Come on Nicolas, you can do better. You will do better. You’ll bound back and knock it out of the park. We live in hope of that bright shining day.