With its derivative poster, generic title, the New Orleans setting, and starring Nicolas Cage, Seeking Justice received a ceremonial theatrical release but was mostly dismissed as another low budget Cage action movie. While Cage’s presence no doubt saved the movie from being direct-to-video, it’s also not quite a mere Taken ripoff/vigilante action movie as most people described.
Cage plays Will Gerard, a high school English teacher in NOLA. One night his wife Laura (January Jones from that X-Men movie, that Liam Neeson movie without the sex slavery or the wolves, the most boring part of TV’s Mad Men) is robbed and raped. At the hospital, a stranger (Guy Pearce from L.A. Confidential, Ravenous, Memento, Luc Besson’s Lockout) offers to settle the scores for him since authorities cannot be counted on in New Orleans. All Will has to do in return is to do a favor for them in the future.
The above synopsis can be found in pretty much any review of the movie. I would not delve any further since unlike most movies, especially the dtv ones, the second act of Seeking Justice is actually the most interesting: it’s the only part of the movie that manages to keep you guessing and wonder where it’s heading.
That is, if you can make it through the familiar yet at the same time ludicrous and clumsily put together setup in the first half hour. An opening scene has someone asks Will and Laura “so, how did you two meet?” before we know who anyone is. Exposition 101 continues in a bid to further develop the couple hastily: the movie not only has Will the English teacher playing chess with his black co-worker (played by Harold Perrineau from TV’s Lost, It’s not TV’s Oz, Link from not Zelda but the Matrix movies). He says things like “you play it too safe” to not so much Will but more to the audience. Laura, meanwhile, is a classical violinist who wants to get a gun post-attack. I don’t want to spoil anything but some of these things might just come back later on in the movie.
We do get a couple of scenes of Will teaching his high school English class. Unfortunately, the Nicolas-Cage-as-a-high-school-English-teacher idea is not fully explored. A big deal was made about metal detectors at the school and not allowing students to bring cell phone to class but then it’s not followed through. It does, however, give us the following picture, which is a pretty weird thing to see in an R rated movie. Instead, I’ll view it as a commentary on our public education system.
That’s the inept and obvious part. For you Monte Cristo 2002 and The Time Machine 2002 fans, Guy Pearce does show up to move the plot along and ups the preposterous factor. For no reason whatsoever, he asks Will to go to the cafeteria of the hospital to buy two candy bars if he agree to the deal. Later on he asks him to leave the bar, go to the corner store, buy a pack of gum and leave through the backdoor to finally meet him in a van. It makes no difference whether he buys the candy bars or gum. Pearce’s character is either over-dramatic or loves Rube Goldberg. Even more outrageous is that a pack of gum costs $1.50 in New Orleans.
It may sound like the buy in is rather high, I have to say, once you get pass the setup, it’s neither bad nor boring, especially for Nicolas Cage fans (the condescending hipster douchebags spell Nicholas instead of Nicolas). Not that there are very many Cage moments, but it’s nice to see him act in a non-Disney or Disney-Marvel movie. One Cage moment is in the opening scene where he declares his love for NOLA and then there is one later on with him on the phone with Pearce. They didn’t make me laugh out loud (LOL for you kids) as much as that scene in the newspaper headquarter though.
In addition to Cage, the rest of the performances are solid, which is saying something considering Jones is in the cast. Like that kid with the cell phone, I tend to think that it’s a meta commentary of some sort that they have Jones in a scene with mannequins. Pearce deserves a special mention, who instead of hamming it up as the lead villain, he plays it cool and calm most of the time. The only one being wasted is Jennifer Carpenter as Laura’s friend, she’s barely in two scenes and this character doesn’t really affect the plot in any way.
It would be a mistake to see the movie as a Taken ripoff. You will be thinking about many other better movies. One big special effect action sequence is barely a step above the Asylum movies, which Jackie Chan has done for real and looked better. The first act throws so many things at you that not only will you be thinking about Straw Dogs but also the 70s conspiracy thrillers, Fincher’s The Game, Enemy of the State, and Conspiracy Theory. Cage’s character is in a universe more realistic than the National Treasure movies. The premise reminds one of the Michael Douglas movie The Star Chamber. Based purely on character names, Cage’s Will Gerard brings back memories of The Fugitive, running between the law and the villain. Pearce’s character, who uses mostly phones, acts more like Gruber’s little brother as in Di3 Hard 3 with a Vengeance.
The film eventually ends at an abandoned building as movies like this often does. It’s not the usual warehouse with high rise catwalks. This setting is made more poignant for the fact that it’s in New Orleans. Many recent dtv movies take place in NOLA but I can’t quite think of another one that the Louisiana locale actually enriches the movie emotionally or thematically. Justice is sought there not just because it saves the producers some money via tax credits. . The vigilante plot highlights the helplessness and hopelessness of the anarchic post-Katrina New Orleans.
Maybe it’s because of low expectations after snoozefests like Joel Schumacher’s Trespass (2011), Ghost Rider 2 With a Vengeance, and Season of the Witch. Seeking Justice is a mid-range Roger Donaldson (No Way Out, Cocktail, The Getaway 1994, Species, Dante’s Peak, The Bank Job) effort, and the second best Cage-in-New-Orleans movie.
P.S. For unknown reason, they changed the title from the memorable unique Hungry Rabbit Jumps to the generic dtv-esque Seeking Justice.
Search for Seeking Justice on CanIStream.It