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Film Review -Seeking Justice

Venue: Cine 4, Ster-Kinekor
Maerua Mall
Director: Roger Donaldson
Players: Nicholas Cage, Guy Pierce, January Jones
Genre: Thriller; action; suspense
Rating: ***

The main theme of this film is a popular one in current times in the Western world: an ordinary, decent citizen is pitted against powerful forces over which he has no control and is forced to change his mild-mannered personality to become a savage survivor. Will Gerard (Cage) is a modest English teacher at Rampart High School, where he waxes passionately about poetry and Shakespeare to college students who may be considered lacklustre to the point of indifference.  His wife, Laura, (Jones) is a musician with a local orchestra and goes for practice in the evenings.
The introductory scenes of Rampart High School are not comforting: students and staff are required to pass through high security surveillance equipment and frisked before they can enter the building. Gerard speaks flippantly of the machine that “rings and sings”.
On the surface the couple has a perfectly ordinary middle-class existence: working by day and meeting friends at night.  Then an incident occurs which changes everyone’s perspective: while Will is playing chess in a local pub with his friend and boss, Jimmy, Laura is playing with the orchestra.  Some clever cross-cutting, accompanied by the orchestral music which is being practised, cleverly builds up tension. While leaving the building, Laura is dogged, attacked and raped just after she has climbed into her car. The cross-cutting of the attack on Laura counterpoises her danger with Will, as he is losing the game of chess. ‘Checkmate’ from Jimmy is accompanied by crashing crescendos of violins.
The rape is the starting point for Will’s personal drama, as he sits for hours at his wife’s bedside or prowling hospital corridors. A perfect stranger introduces himself: “I am Simon’, an enigmatic, smartly-dressed character whose right-wing tendencies are characterised by his shaved head.  “I represent an organisation that deals with people,” he casually confides,” We are just a few people seeking justice.” Will initially responds to Simon’s proposal with an emphatic ‘No,” yet inexplicably, a few seconds later, he recalls Simon from the doorway to consider the proposal more seriously.
The proposal involves an offer to dispose of Laura’s assailant, allegedly a well-known rapist who has avoided capture and arrest.  Mild-mannered Will, irrational at that moment, welcomes the thought of someone else dirtying his hands with the kind of violence which he would like to do but is restrained by his nature and social upbringing. That is as much of the plot as may be divulged.
It is this kind of film that American producers and directors have perfected: the taut, suspenseful thriller where the plot is at times so complex that worrying about realistic consequences becomes impossible. The screenplay invariably devises a sane and ethical ending which satisfies all.  Part of the skill in this genre is the use of sound and skilful cinematography. Small details acquire symbolic significance. As Will makes his momentous decision and presses a candy machine for two bars of ‘Forever’ chocolate, the slow but inevitable fall of the bars from the rack is filmed with slow deliberation. A point is made.
The dramatic climax to the film takes place in a deserted shopping mall, one that has been closed for renovation swhich had never occurred. The human drama is played out against the sterile backdrop of empty escalators and faceless shops, with the slight suggestion of decay everywhere.
“The hungry rabbit jumps” is a mantra which recurs often. It is a signal of secret knowledge and bonding. The plot contains surprises because whichever way Will turns he is confronted by treachery and hypocrisy. The mantra actually suggests an idealistic and noble rationale for the secret organisation with which Will becomes embroiled: humanity; reason; justice. In practice, none of these values are in evidence.
Cage and Pierce are the actors which command centre stage in the film. Pierce, as Simon, is coldly convincing in his obsessional objectives. Cage as Gerard is competent, although the role does not provide him with scope to demonstrate his considerable talent as an actor.  The transition from the humanitarian English teacher to the hunted man, who must cheat death with his fast reaction time, is fairly convincing. After the chess game, Will’s friend Jimmy tells him that his chess technique is defective: he “plays not to lose” instead of ‘taking chances”.
There are decisions which are made on the spur of the moment which can have lifetime consequences. Most of us prefer to ignore them as we battle with the vicissitudes of existence.  Some decisions reap beneficial changes; some not.  Will Gerard maintains his personal code of values and does not deviate or capitulate to coercion.  The enemy within is a popular stereotype these days, whether these are represented by the American military-industrial complex or the Illuminati. We prefer to believe that everything is as it seems; we are uncomfortable with the notion that superficial appearance hides a more sinister truth. The powerlessness of the average citizen, however, is a common theme in films today and perhaps with good reason.  Only the bold take to the streets to protest injustice, whether this is inflicted by the state or by secret agents of which we are but dimly aware.

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