'Acts of Vengeance': Film Review
Antonio Banderas plays a man who takes the law into his own hands in Isaac Florentine's action-thriller.
You can't entirely dismiss an action movie that manages to throw lessons of stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius into the violent mix. Such is the case with Acts of Vengeance, starring Antonio Banderas, who, at age 57, seems to be angling for the same sort of middle-aged badassery that has done so much for Liam Neeson's retirement account. While his efforts here are a far cry from his many collaborations with Pedro Almodovar, Banderas proves more than capable of playing the sort of strong, silent type who resorts to vigilante justice. You can look at this film as a warm-up for the upcoming remake of Death Wish, starring the similarly long-in-the-tooth Bruce Willis.
Banderas plays Frank Valera, a hotshot defense lawyer who, as many members of his profession seem prone to do, pays more attention to his career than his family. That inattention causes tragedy when he misses his young daughter's talent show and comes home only to find an empty house. Hours later, police arrive and escort him to a crime scene involving his wife and child, both brutally murdered.
The detective (Johnathon Schaech) in charge comes up empty with his investigation. Eventually a sympathetic cop, Strode (Karl Urban), informs Frank that the case has been closed, leading the bereft barrister to drown his sorrows in alcohol. Frank soon finds an even more effective form of penance when he comes upon an underground fight club and periodically allows himself to be beaten to a pulp.
Returning home one night, Frank is propositioned by a teenage prostitute. He demurs, and when her pimp shows up a few moments later Frank attempts to intercede on her behalf, only to be beaten up and stabbed for his troubles. Falling through the window of a bookstore, he comes upon a bloodstained copy of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations and inspiration strikes.
Cue the training montage — the only thing missing is the theme from Rocky — as Frank, inspired by such Aurelius sayings as "To expect bad men not to do wrong is madness," begins honing his body and taking martial arts lessons. He also discovers (and this will come as a revelation to audiologists) that his hearing miraculously improves after he takes a vow of silence.
Attempting to track down his family's killers, Frank discovers that even his improved fighting skills don't prevent him from getting shot when he battles a group of thugs. He's rescued and brought home by a woman passerby, Alma (Paz Vega). After Frank regains consciousness, she introduces herself as an ER nurse and "volunteer at the local homeless shelter." He also picks up a sidekick in the form of a stray German shepherd who clearly recognizes a kindred spirit.
Frank ultimately uncovers the identity of the killer, which won't be much of a surprise to anyone who's seen these sorts of thrillers before. The discovery leads to the inevitable final showdown, which, like all of the many hand-to-hand fight scenes in the film, is excellently choreographed by Tim Man.
Looking in excellent physical shape, Banderas glowers quite effectively here. The film also features an uncommonly good supporting cast; besides the aforementioned players, it includes Robert Forster, who makes a vivid impression in his single scene as Frank's hostile father-in-law.
Director Isaac Florentine, a veteran of this sort of direct-to-video violent fare, not surprisingly proves more effective with the action than dramatic scenes, but he keeps the pace moving nicely. He and fight choreographer Man also make cameo appearances as two of the sanseis training Frank.
Much like its hero, Acts of Vengeance doesn't have much to say. But it gets the job done.
Production companies: Millennium Media, Nu Boyana Film Studios
Distributor: Saban Films, Lionsgate
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Karl Urban, Paz Vega, Johnathon Schaech, Robert Forster
Director: Isaac Florentine
Screenwriter: Matt Venne
Producers: Boaz Davidson, John Thompson, Yariv Lerner, Les Weldon
Executive producers: Avi Lerner, Trevor Short, Vincent Cheng
Director of photography: Yaron Scharf
Production designer: Antonello Rubino
Editors: Paul Harb, Ivan Todorov Ivanov, Irit Raz
Composer: Frederik Wiedmann
Casting: Mariana Stanisheva, Jeremy Zimmerman