Thursday, October 26, 2017

Isaac Florentine’s Acts of Vengeance

Stoics never lose their cool. The pursuit of vengeance taking would therefore seem at odds with practice of stoicism, but anyone who can roughly merge them together will be one dangerous customer. A grieving father inspired by Marcus Aurelius will try to do exactly that in Isaac Florentine’s Acts of Vengeance (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Presumably Frank Valera’s voice-overs are an interior monologue, because he has taken a secular vow of silence after the murder of his wife and young daughter. He ruefully admits he used to talk quite a bit as a slimy defense attorney. No, the irony that he used to defend criminals possibly like the ones who killed Sue and Olivia Valera is not lost on him. For a while, he tortures himself by acting as a human punching bag in underground steel cage fights. However, a chance encounter with the Emperor’s Meditations changes his perspective. It says: “Punish only those who are guilty of the crime.” Right, sounds like a plan.

Valera starts snooping around the post-industrial crime scene neighborhood, drawing the attention of the Russian mob. He will take out some frustration on their enforcers, becoming the protector of a nurse at a low-income clinic, who had been forced to supply them traffickable prescription drugs. However, the true identity of his wife’s killer will be a third act revelation most viewers will guess, simply due to the limited cast of characters.

Despite the unsurprising surprise, Acts is suitably lean and agile payback thriller. Florentine is one of the best in the business at rendering street-level action (frankly, he is overdue for a New York retrospective). Once again, his fight scenes are cleanly legible (no shaky cam here), but Florentine adds a further personal stamp by also appearing on-screen as Valera’s hard-nosed sensei.

The whole stoicism thing probably helps (no teary outbursts wanted or required), but Antonio Banderas still gives one of his best performances since at least The Skin I Live In (another revenge drama) and maybe going all the way back to Philadelphia. We definitely believe he is deeply wounded and extremely ticked off. He also shows some convincing moves in the fight scenes. That is all to the good, because Banderas is on screen nearly every second. Still, even in limited screen time, Robert Forster leaves his mark as Valera’s slightly disappointed father-in-law.

Viewers like us may well be of two minds with respect to the film’s ironic twist, but there is no denying its grit. Florentine does this kind of film better than anyone and he brought out Banderas’s A-game. It is also pretty darn literate for the genre. Acts of Vengeance is definitely worth seeing eventually, but whether you should wait for VOD or catch it in theaters depends on how enthusiastic you are about Banderas or Florentine and action payback cinema. It opens tomorrow (10/27) in New York, at the Village East.