YOU wait all year for a generic and predictable Nicolas Cage thriller and then two come along in quick succession.
Last week, the Oscar-winning actor and screen wife Nicole Kidman valiantly fended off bumbling diamond thieves during a home invasion in Trespass.
Now, Cage reluctantly turns to crime – albeit to clear his besmirched name – in an incendiary tale of revenge, directed by Roger Donaldson.
On the page at least, Justice has the kernel of a good idea: the rise of vigilantism to correct perceived imbalances in the legal system.
As one of the characters in Donaldson’s film coldly observes, “Rapists can serve 11 months, which is less than half the time you get for tax evasion.”
Screenwriter Robert Tannen grafts decent action sequences on to his compelling main plot but for all of the fire and brimstone spouted by the characters as they wrestle with their consciences, we’re largely unmoved.
New Orleans high school teacher Will Gerard (Cage) recites Shakespeare to his students, but they would rather text during class or plaster the corridors in graffiti.
His entire world comes crashing down when his beautiful musician wife, Laura (January Jones), is robbed and sexually assaulted on her way home from rehearsal.
The attack leaves her battered and bruised, and poor Will an emotional wreck.
In the hospital waiting room, Will is approached by an enigmatic stranger called Simon (Guy Pearce), who offers to save the couple from a distressing court trial by doling out tough justice to the rapist.
All Will has to do is to agree to return the favour at some point in the future.
To show his assent, Will is instructed to buy two chocolate bars from a vending machine in the hospital canteen.
Six months after entering the pact, Simon contacts Will to collect the debt by asking the teacher to kill a paedophile (Jason Davis).
When Will refuses, Simon ups the stakes, jeopardising the teacher’s relationship with his suspicious wife and best friend Jimmy (Harold Perrineau).
Justice is a solid concept competently executed by Donaldson, who makes good use of the New Orleans locations to paint the city as a miasma of bright lights and noise.
While we sympathise with Cage’s husband, we don’t share his sense of indignation, and screen chemistry with Jones is a tad chilly.
Pearce is a far better actor than he’s permitted to demonstrate here, rarely allowing emotion to register on his chiseled features.
The more convoluted the narrative becomes, twisting and turning as hunters become the hunted, the quicker our interest wanes until we’re correctly guessing how the skullduggery will end based on Tannen’s unsubtle hints.
“Your problem is you play too safe,” Jimmy tells Will as they play chess.
He could justifiably level the same criticism at Donaldson’s film.