Rough justice

Justice (15)

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Guy Pearce, January Jones, Jennifer Carpenter, Harold Perrineau, Xander Berkeley, Jason Davis.

Director: Roger Donaldson.

Running time: 104 mins

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 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.

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.

Screenwriter Robert Tannen grafts decent action sequences onto 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 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.

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.

Rating: 3/5