Sommerleigh Pollonais, Senior Writer
Plot: A writer from New York City attempts to solve the murder of a girl he hooked up with and travels down South to investigate the circumstances of her death and discover what happened to her.
Review: Every now and again I find myself watching a movie I knew nothing about going in. I didn’t watch the trailer, didn’t read the synopsis, I just saw the cast and the title and figure, “Why not?” And with a title like Vengeance, I figured this would be a by-the-numbers action thriller maybe with a modern-day western vibe the likes of Wind River or Hell and High Water. But not only is the title of this movie misleading, it’s one of those films that’s really hard to explain. Still, there’s just something about it that makes it worth a look.
Vengeance (2022) is the first feature film by writer/director B.J. Novak (who also stars in the lead role), who is known for his roles in popular sitcom The Office and the film Inglourious Basterds. It opens with Ben (Novak) having a conversation about modern day relationships with, of all people musician John Mayer (playing himself). Ben seems to fancy himself a writer and a playboy until one night he gets a call from a man named Ty (Boyd Holbrook) who tells him his girlfriend Abeline has died and invites him to the funeral in Texas. The thing is Ben only hooked up with Abeline (or “Abby” for short) once and barely remembers her, yet he decides to go anyways and ends up getting caught up in the mystery of how Abby died, investigating with her brother and in the process connecting with her family.
Like Fargo, Vengeance is more focused on the characters than the plot itself. Ben is a product of his surroundings, a man who’s more focused on his status and his aspirations to be a writer and celebrity than actually forming real relationships. So he sees an opportunity to make a name for himself by turning Abby’s death into a crime podcast. Yet his time with her family and seeing videos of her singing causes him to form the first real connections he has ever had in his life. Novak works well in the role, and you can tell he’s trying to say something about the way people as a whole treat these types of stories. The podcast is titled “Dead White Girl” for a reason, with the big city social types who Ben are working with to turn the tragedy into something people would find titillating. Scenes of “elites” are juxtaposed against those set in the wastelands of Texas where ordinary folks enjoy small pleasures like going to the rodeo or eating chili mixed into a bag of Fritos (called a Frito pie).
It’s the performances that kept me tuned into Vengeance and some of my favourites came from a very unlikely source—Ashton Kutcher. In possibly the best performance of his career, he plays a record producer Quinten Sellers, a man who looks ridiculous in his brightly coloured western outfits but whose monologues on art, drugs and society speaks to someone a lot smarter than he appears. Kutcher delivers his lines with a quiet menace that makes him feel unpredictable and deeply scary and I have to say he steals every scene he appears in. I honestly never thought he had this kind of range to him; it’s a shame he doesn’t have more screen time, and that’s not something I ever thought I would say about him.
Unfortunately, while the characters are written and performed well here, Vengeance feels like it may have bitten off more than it could chew. The main plot line is thin yet the movie itself is full to the brim of conversations about, well, everything! Relationships, politics, liberals and conservatives, conspiracy theories and everything else in between. It’s all packed in there and while I did enjoy some of these conversations, especially the final scene between Kutcher and Novak, it does come across a bit heavy handed.
That said, the humorous moments worked and overall, as a film debut, I think it’s a strong outing. Maybe not for everyone, and I’m sure there are viewers who will walk away annoyed as the title of the movie almost feels like click-bait; still, it’ll be interesting to see with more time and experience what Novak will bring audiences in the future.
Score: 6.5 out of 10
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Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever, and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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