I just finished watching this movie and I have thoughts.
It is not a great movie. It is, at its best, an average movie. There are small moments here and there that make it interesting and there are some very large plot arcs that also make it interesting, at least to me.
****Just as a warning, the movie deals pretty heavily with sexual assault, so I’ll be talking about that as well.****
Let’s get the synopsis out of the way:
Based on Joyce Carol Oate’s Rape: A Love Story, Vengeance: A Love Story is about a young single mother, Teena (Ann Hutchinson) who is brutally gang-raped in front of her twelve-year-old daughter, Bethie (Talitha Eliana Bateman). Because the justice system caters to jagoffs and rapists, it’s up to Detective John Something (Nicolas Cage) to put away the trash….for good.
This is not going to be a typical review. I’m not doing a blow-by-blow of the cinematography or the acting or whatever you want. I do want to talk about the rape scene, which is brutal and awful and involves a child actor being present for a fair amount of it, to the point that the daughter covers her own brutalized mother’s nudity with the discarded and torn clothing.
This is…unnecessary. Whenever I see children in this type of movie, I think about Danielle Harris. She’s an actress who played the ten-year-old niece of Michael Meyers in the Halloween movies (IV and V?). Because the production team did such a lousy job of protecting her and screening her from the worst of it, she suffered nightmares and eventually did the Rob Zombie Halloween movies as a form of therapy, which is…the most mindbogglingly sentence I’ve had to type.
So there’s that. Additionally, I’m extremely over scenes of extreme sexual violence in movies because usually they’re just used as a catalyst to propel the male character to do some violence.
However….this movie did something right. Nicolas Cage’s character is the over-the-hill cop who has seen it all and is tired of the system and the revolving door in our criminal justice system….except he’s very low key and he’s not really in the movie that much. He appears here and there and then shows up toward the end in a big way, but for large chunks of the movie, it’s about Teena and Bethie dealing with what happened and the emotional ramifications of that.
There’s an especially affecting scene when Teena is about to swallow a handful of pills in a suicide attempt and then throws them away in an angry fit. In a lot of movies, that would be the end of it. She conquered her suicidal depression in one angry act! But the movie continues to show that she is not okay, that she is still having trouble emotionally processing the attack and what happened to her and that’s she’s still suffering from suicidal ideation.
And Nicolas Cage is Sleepy Cage in this movie. He’s not grandstanding. He’s not taking over the movie when he’s around. He’s mostly silent, mostly in the background and mostly just waiting to act. And when he does act (yes it’s to murder the rapists) it’s thoughtful, careful, planned violence that removes the problem with no collateral damage.
This movie is still problematical in that in robs Teena and Bethie of dealing with the resolution themselves, but it does something right in that it actually highlights their journey after the assault. It highlights the women that were attacked, the women around them who are trying to help.
This is not a good movie. It has some great moments, Ann Hutchinson and Talitha Batemen work well together and have great chemistry and don’t pull any punches with their performances. And Cage makes the right choice in this movie and minimizes his impact.
I’m not recommending you see this movie, unless you, for some reason, think we need another movie in which a woman is brutally raped and her male whatever needs to avenge her. Vengeance takes a step in the right direction. Focus on her story. How she deals with it and copes with it.
It’s not his story.