As a Nicolas Cage apologist (movies in my collection include Wicker Man, both National Treasures, and TWO copies of Con Air), the idea of him doing something a little more “normal” is always intriguing, because there’s always the question if he will actually play it straight for once, or turn a routine thriller into something a little more insane than anyone could have predicted. Sadly, for the most part he tones it down for Seeking Justice, with the bulk of his Cage-isms (random shouting, weird props) confined to the film’s first few minutes. It seems to promise something more enjoyably wacky than the film ultimately delivers, however; it’s actually just buying the movie some goodwill early on before it becomes a rather routine thriller that is mostly quite fitting of its generic name.
Cage plays Will Gerard, a New Orleans school teacher who has somehow landed a wife 20 years younger than him (January Jones; I suspect Cage's role was written for someone a bit younger, but whatever). One night she is beaten and raped by some random thug, and while stewing in the hospital waiting room, Cage is approached by Simon (Guy Pearce), who makes a very strange but tempting offer: he will “take care” of the man responsible for her attack, and in exchange someday he will ask a favor in return – something simple like breaking a security camera or making a phone call. Of course, we know it won’t be that simple, and thus when Cage is asked to do the same sort of thing some other poor schmuck did for him (i.e. kill a guy) he refuses, which just makes things worse for him.
There’s an extra layer to the plot that I won’t divulge here (since the trailers I've seen didn’t even hint at it - surprising since it makes up most of the film’s second half), which keeps it from being a mild variation on Death Wish, though it never FEELS like anything but a standard “ordinary man forced into terrible situation” movie (particularly in the underwhelming climactic shootout). And again, Cage mostly keeps his antics in check, giving his critics less to latch onto; it’s not exactly one of his best performances, but there won’t be any Youtube remixes of it, either (though there's a wonderfully out of nowhere bit where Will offers an impromptu grammar lesson that will delight Cage-philes). I should note that it's a nice fit for January Jones, who may actually be a robot – playing a woman who emotionally shuts down is well within her comfort zone. The supporting cast is fine, if a bit wasted (those who plan to come for Jennifer Carpenter’s appearance should stick to Dexter reruns), though Pearce seems to be enjoying himself, and has a fun chemistry with Cage.
Like many of the cast members, Roger Donaldson wastes his setting for the most part. There’s an underplayed theme of New Orleans going to shit and how Simon and his guys are merely trying to restore the city to its former glory, but they don’t really make much use of the city’s geography or landmarks – the French Quarter barely even appears. The climax is set inside a mall that was abandoned (and still not repaired/cleaned up) after Katrina, but otherwise the references are pure lip service and the movie could have been shot anywhere. He does a fine job with the action sequences, however, particularly a foot chase in/around a freeway overpass. This obviously wasn’t the biggest budgeted movie in the world, and at times it does feel a bit TV movie-ish, but at least I could follow the various shootouts and chases - an increasing rarity in modern films.
I also kept wondering if the film was the victim of some reshoots/re-edits. I already mentioned Carpenter’s role (why hire a known actress to barely speak?), but any scene that shows our hero playing chess usually has a punchline, yet his obvious love for the game in the early parts of the film is never mentioned again. And (minor spoiler here) the guy Cage is supposed to bump off seems agitated toward him, but later plot developments reveal that if anything he should have been interested in having a chat. Harold Perrineau and Xander Berkeley's character also seems to be missing a beat or two - I wouldn’t be surprised if the DVD had more than a few deleted scenes. It’s not a noticeably short movie (95 minutes or so), but it definitely feels a bit pared down.
Still, the film’s limited theatrical release means most folks will be seeing this on DVD, and probably judge it as “a pretty good direct to video movie”, which is fair. It’s not exciting or complex enough to stand along with the other thrillers out there now, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the various Cuba Gooding Jr and Val Kilmer thrillers clogging the shelves. Apart from Cage none of the recognizable actors are exactly A-list, and most folks probably wouldn’t bat an eye if one of his films really WAS direct to disc, given his increasingly spotty track record. Certainly not worth much of an effort to see theatrically, but it beats watching Bangkok Dangerous on cable again, that’s for damn sure.