Nicolas Cage plays an ex-soldier turned stoic detective who has had enough of the broken system that rewards the guilty and punishes the innocent in Vengeance: A Love Story (2017). Not as bad or as good as it could have been.
While walking home from a 4th of July party, Teena (Anna Hutchinson) suffers a brutal sexual assault at the hands of some local dirtbag, ne’er-do-well types. Her daughter Bethie (Talitha Bateman), who witnesses it all, manages to find Detective John Dromoor (Cage) as he patrols near the crime scene. When Dromoor finds Teena, he immediately recognizes her as the same woman he had hit it off with at his local bar a few days prior. With Bethie’s helpful descriptions, Dromoor is able to round up the perpetrators quickly that same night and has her identify them in a police lineup.
Things don’t look good for Teena’s case when the perps’ parents hire the best criminal defense lawyer around, Jay Kirkpatrick (Don Johnson). He comes highly recommended by the local priest, who states that this lawyer has helped the church in the past. He knows his clients’ type and that they are very probably guilty but it’s his job to get them off the hook. We learn right off that Kirkpatrick is ruthlessly good at fabricating misleading and false narratives in his client’s favor. We also see that he is chummy with the judge who seems completely uninterested in Teena’s well being or obvious trauma. Kirkpatrick works his black magic at the hearing and the perps are free to roam the streets until trial, should there be one.
With the perps free and now harassing Teena and Bethie to intimidate them to change their story before trial, Dromoor decides he needs to take action by discharging his “sworn duty as an officer of the law.” Thus begins the “vengeance” part of this overly dramatic tale. Dromoor picks off the thugs one by one in various creative ways that make it look like they have either fled, taken their own lives, or were killed during violent acts which just happen to involve Dromoor himself. It all wraps up rather well, everyone lives happily ever after even though our hero doesn’t get the girl as Teena and Bethie pack up to move to sunny California.
The action starts right off the bat as soon as we are introduced to the intense Dromoor but fades after that very brutal assault scene until the last third of the movie where Dromoor begins his vigilantism. The action scenes aren’t bad and it’s fun to watch Cage as a stoic cop kicking ass and meting out six-gun type justice. Cage’s Dromoor is rather obsessed and stalker-ish though, as he turns up just when Teena and Bethie need him most and where the bad guys are likely to be. Cage isn’t as cringey here (although a bit too old for the role) but seems detached from the part at times; then again, maybe that’s to show Dromoor is a bit of a head case? His dyed black hair is a bit off-putting and distracting throughout; it looks cheap and freshly done. On the other hand, Don Johnson as Kirkpatrick is on point while the remaining cast is hit or miss.
Vengeance: A Love Story seems like a passion project for Cage as he produced and was slated to direct at one time but stepped back for some reason and Johnny Martin took the reins. Based on a novella by Joyce Carol Oates with a screenplay by John Mankiewicz, it’s a bit cliche, melodramatic, mostly over-played for emotional effect and seems like it was rushed to a finish. The plot overall is convoluted and filled with holes. The court scenes are overdone and designed to work up the audience and further put them in Dromoor’s corner which is completely unnecessary due to the brutal nature of the crime. The movie also tries to stir up questions about constitutional rights but Cage’s Giuliani-esque hair dye is too distracting to take that scene seriously.
Vengeance: A Love Story had my full attention for an entertaining 100 minutes and it seems Cage (though too old) could have reprised the role, with better hair coloring, or perhaps even remake the story as a western, a decent cowboy hat would serve him well. Overall I would only recommend this one on Blu-ray if you’re a die hard Cage fan as there are no extras or special features. I’d say catch this Cage outing on cable or streaming somewhere for free.