There is a long and occasionally proud tradition in the movies of ordinary men or women caught in extraordinary circumstances. A classic example is North by Northwest, one of the first true civilian action blockbusters, in which Cary Grant, perfectly tailored, dodges a crop-duster in a cornfield and bullets while hanging on to the famous faces of Mount Rushmore.
It takes more than just an everyday Joe or Jill battling incredible odds to make a good movie, however—and Seeking Justice drives that point home emphatically.
Will Gerard (Nicolas Cage) teaches English literature at Rampart High School in New Orleans. From the metal detectors and skirmishes in class, we gather it's a tough environment. His wife, Laura (January Jones), a cellist in the orchestra, is savagely attacked leaving rehearsal one night.
At the hospital, an emotional Will meets Simon (Guy Pearce), who says he has associates who can find the rapist and "take care of it." Will cautiously accepts, even though this is a deal with the devil: Simon wants something from Will before the debt is squared, and who knows what or when that will be?
The concept isn't terribly new, nor are the paths Seeking Justice follows along the way. Yes, there comes a point when Will's phone rings, and he's asked to do something terribly against his nature. Yes, Simon turns out not to be a Samaritan. And, yes, acting still gives the lovely January Jones fits.
It would be helpful if the breathless action scenes—of which there are thankfully only a few—depicted things a run-of-the-mill high school English teacher could conceivably execute. Cage runs against traffic; avoids the police and the bad guys in high-speed chases; and surreptitiously steals an Escalade from a ritzy hotel through some swift sleight of hand. It worked for Cary Grant in North by Northwest, because all he had to do was slide down the face of a mountain ... and seduce a woman, things Cary Grant could probably pull off.
Could Hollywood get away with an un-action movie, the kind in which a high school teacher isn't channeling Jason Bourne? The kind in which a guy who gets paid to spout Shakespeare doesn't have shootouts with professional killers? Such a movie would probably be more satisfying than this, because the circumstances completely undermine the development of the characters. Why not just make Nic Cage a cop (again) or something?
The preposterous nature of the network of vigilante avengers is given a little bit of weight thanks to Guy Pearce. He's always been incredibly versatile, yet he's rarely been given the chance to showcase that versatility in a great, accessible film. Even when the film doesn't live up to his own ingenuity (as is the case here), there is still more to Pearce's performances than him punching a time card. He doesn't have much to work with, but he's incredibly intense and a little bit off.
Seeking Justice was directed by Roger Donaldson, who has plugged away at it for 35 years, with only a few worthwhile films to his credit. His previous two, in fact, are pretty good: The Bank Job starring Jason Statham, and The World's Fastest Indian with Anthony Hopkins. But it's mostly been stuff like this—movies that don't really distinguish themselves in any positive way, but wind up taking 20 minutes of your time on cable a few years after they're released. When it gets really dopey, you'll flip to the next channel, hoping to find something better.
And unless it's another Nic Cage or Roger Donaldson action film, odds are, it will be.