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ACTS OF VENGEANCE (2017) review

October 24, 2017



written by: Matt Venne
produced by: Yariv Lerner and Les Weldon
directed by: Isaac Florentine
rated: R (for violence and language)
runtime: 86 min.
U.S. release date: October 27, 2017 (limited, VOD, Amazon & iTunes)


In case you weren’t aware, Antonio Banderas has been a busy guy in recent years, but specifically this year. The actor has starred in a handful of recent VOD (that’s Video On Demand, FYI) action flicks, such as “Security” with Sir Ben Kingsley, “Black Butterfly” with Jonathan Rhys Meyers (now streaming on Netflix) and the wretched “Gun Shy” from Simon West. I’ve seen two out of those three and would only barely recommend one of them. Now he’s back in action with “Acts of Vengeance” a movie that’s a step up from his recent work, applying some interesting devices to a familiar revenge tale, but it’s unfortunately a story that ignores its potential, settling into a serviceable and predictable actioner. 

Frank Valera (Antonio Banderas) is criminal lawyer, who often successfully defends controversial clients, getting them off on a NG (not-guilty) plea, which has built him a popular reputation. His workaholic behavior has frequently kept him from being present for his wife, Susan (Cristina Serafini) and their pre-teen daughter, Olivia (Lillian Blankenship, who also starred in “Security” with Banderas) and one night he becomes concerned when his wife and daughter aren’t yet home from Olivia’s talent show performance earlier that evening. His concern turns to devastation when police arrive at his door and Frank is taken to the reservoir where his family’s dead bodies were discarded.




At the cemetery, Olivia’s father (Robert Forster, in the definition of a walk-on role) berates Frank, blaming him for his daughter’s death and informing his son-in-law that he never ever wants to hear the sound of Frank’s voice again. Thus begins Frank’s downward spiral. First his reliance on alcohol and then his pursuit of penance by way of physical self-punishment after finding an underground fight club in the back of a local bar. During this time, he takes a leave from his law firm and finds becomes disappointed when the despondent detective (Johnathan Schaech) he persistently checks in on offers zero progress in the investigation of his wife and daughter’s murders.

After intentionally getting into it with a fight club onlooker, Frank finds himself submitting to constant beatings each night inside the fight cage until another fighter, Strode (Karl Urban), sits him down and hears him out. We learn Strode is a local cop, who’s taken to MMA-style fighting to let off some steam from the job, someone who happens to know that the police investigation has now gone cold.  This information sets Frank on a journey to bring the killer to justice with unexpected inspiration from a paperback of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations he stumbles upon, which leads him to take a vow of silence until his mission is complete.

In his silence he is able to slow down, be more observant and focus his mind and body. Being a successful, high-profile lawyer with money not being an option, he dedicates his time and energy into honing his body into a perfect weapon while sharpening his mind with as many clues to the location and evidence surrounding the actual murder. More information is revealed the closer he gets (like how the Russian mafia is possibly involved) and along the way he receives unlikely help from a former police dog and a stubborn nurse, Sheila (Paz Vega), as the truth of his family’s slaying becomes more apparent.

“Acts of Vengeance” is helmed by Israeli B-movie Isaac Florentine, who’s made a reputation for himself (in certain circles, mind you) directing VOD action flicks like the “Undisputed” and “Ninja” series of movies. On just a pure action level, Florentine delivers some well-choreographed action sequences (the director actually makes an appearance as one of Frank’s martial arts instructors in a montage), but the problem is the screenplay from Matt Venne (writer of such gems as “White Noise 2” and “The Exorcism of Molly Hartley”), which isn’t much more than your average revenge action flick.




The only two unique elements that Venne’s script has going for it – Frank’s pledge of silence and the use of the Aurelius book – wear out after a while. The silence bit actually proves kind of silly and limiting, especially when Paz’s nurse character is trying to communicate with the silent Banderas. It seems ridiculous that she would even stick around a guy who won’t utter a syllable of gratitude after she saves his life. It doesn’t help that Venne and Florentine kind of cop-out with this gimmick when they allow for narration courtesy of Banderas’ smooth voice. So much for silence. The Meditations book being the inspiration for his silence vow is interesting, but beyond the director using Aurelius quotes pulled from the book to support chapter titles, Frank isn’t necessarily using it as a handbook or any source of illuminating guidance.

Originally, the film was called “Stoic” (see poster above), which one definition aptly describes as “a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining”. If Frank’s internal struggle could’ve been developed more, maybe even showing the character making some mistakes along the way, the overall story would’ve benefitted greatly.

The supposed big reveal of the killer in “Acts of Vengeance” is anything but when you consider the other actors in the film. It really doesn’t take long to guess who will wind up being the antagonist. There is definitely  a missed opportunity to develop more of a connection between Frank and the killer prior to Frank learning who he is, something that would’ve added more of a struggle for the two characters and a greater investment for the audience. As it stands, what we get in the third act is just more of what we expect.

Banderas hasn’t been involved in anything truly captivating since 2011’s “The Skin I Live In” from Pedro Almodovar (that’s not counting his exemplary voice work in “Puss in Boots”, which came out that same year), but I’m obviously still interested in giving him a chance to surprise me. Like the recent and awful “Gun Shy” from Simon West, this is a movie where Banderas once again shows he’s up for anything. In “Gun Shy” he dove into nonsense material to play a goofy middle-aged, has-been rocker and here he’s basically playing the kind of one-dimensional, revenge-obsessed character you’d wind up playing in a first-person-shooter video game. Using that example, “Acts of Vengeance” is the kind of game I’d be find giving up on and never finishing.







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