Movie Review : Vengeance - A Love Story (2017)
Nicolas Cage became a cult figure before anyone could notice over the last decades and not because he's miraculously reappearing in big productions. His movies are becoming a thing again because they feature his mumbling, alcoholic (and seldom hilarious) self. Cage is turning into the twnenty-first century's answer to quintessential desperate Hollywood drunk Cameron Mitchell and people get a kick out of that. He is certainly the reason why I watched Vengeance : A Love Story, a tragically bad adaptation of a 2003 Joyce Carol Oates novella, and it was almost worth it.
The key worth here being : almost.
Vengeance : A Love Story is (or should be) primarily the story of Teena Maguire, a young woman in his thirties that gets brutally gang-raped and beaten in front of her horrified twelve years old daughter on the 4th of July. The four men guilty of her aggression are inexplicably defended by some hotshot local lawyer (played by Don Johnson of all people) and will most likely get off with a slap on the wrist. Not on policeman John Dromoor's watch. He's a vet and a heavy drinker and he's had enough of these scumbags getting away rape and attempted murder because of a corrupt system.
This movie is set within the savior fantasies of its director and screenwriter. There's nothing in it that's even remotely close to realistic. The perpetrators are ratty, soulless and underwritten townies like in the old Death Wish movies and people love them for no reason whatsoever. In the preliminary hearing phase of the trial, they receive a warm round of applause from the spectators after Don Johnson's character cruelly drags the protagonist in mud. This was a very clumsy and insecure way of trying to convey a sense of injustice. The rapists have zero redeeming value, they're token bad guys and Vengeance : A Love Story is trying way too hard to sell them as beloved local boys.
Warning: This movie is kind of light on Nicolas Cage. It is more of a courtroom drama than anything else. His character is hackneyed and tired anyway. He's got all the mandatory crutches lazy writers use to justify lack of character development: a dead wife, a traumatic experience in the army, an alcohol problem, the list goes on. Cage himself is oddly transcendent when he's on screen, slurring and downplaying his lines up to a point it becomes uncomfortable to watch. He's barely even playing a character. For one fateful scene, he lets go of the dorky cop suit and wears a leather jacket (heavy-handed symbolism alert) and at that precise moment, he's really playing himself out there. It's beautiful.
I haven't read Joyce Carol Oates' Rape : A Love Story, but I'd give it benefit of the doubt. Many of the problems in Vengeance : A Love Story can be pinned on terrible directional choices, like the casting of the rapists or the weird, useless scene where Teena Maguire is shamelesly and inexplicably flirting with John Dromoor only to cut to a scene of her with her boyfriend. This movie is not exactly helping actual rape victims by milking an ambiguity that simply doesn't exist in this open-and-shut case. Nicolas Cage is beautiful in Vengeance : A Love Story, but I can't recommend it. Check out the trailer above instead. It spoils the entire thing.