A fast-talking lawyer transforms his body and takes a vow of silence, not to be broken until he finds out who killed his wife and daughter and has his revenge.
“Acts of Vengeance” is your typical revenge flick: lawyer’s wife and daughter are murdered in cold blood and he seeks vengeance. It’s the oldest motivation known to man and while the movie is overly conventional in every sense of the word, it is Antonio Banderas’ performance alone which elevates it above mediocrity. I still remember the fresh-faced Banderas in Pedro Almodóvar’s “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” back in 1989, as Tom Hanks’ gay lover in “Philadelphia” in 1993, and finally, his guns-blazing performance as the El Mariachi in Robert Rodriguez’ “Desperado” in 1995. The point here is that Mr. Banderas is capable of playing any role and making that character utterly convincing. Unfortunately, while “Acts of Vengeance” gives him the opportunity for another worthwhile performance, its clichéd storytelling and groan-inducing finale take away any semblance of gritty realism and tosses it out the window.
Banderas plays Frank Valera, a silver-tongued defense lawyer who is the best at what he does but after missing his daughter Olivia’s (Lillian Blankenship) performance at a talent show one night due to office work, he finally arrives at the theater only to discover that she and his wife Sue (Cristina Serafini) have already left. He makes it home and when she won’t respond to any of his calls, he assumes that she is upset with him but as the night wears on, and there is no contact from either of them, he begins to worry. His worst fears are realized when two police officers land on his doorstep late in the evening and disclose to him that they are both dead. The victims of a supposed car-jacking gone wrong, with no witnesses and no apparent clues or evidence, the case eventually goes cold. Frank turns to the bottle to help him overcome the guilt he feels for not having been there for his family and when he hits rock bottom, Officer Strode (Karl Urban), saves him and helps him get back on his feet. When Frank decides to do some digging of his own, he quickly comprehends that his family was murdered in a part of town run by the Russian mafia and to prepare for any confrontations he might encounter, he takes up martial arts training.
Through voiceover narration, he informs us that in his chosen profession, it is estimated that he speaks somewhere in the region of 70,000 words daily but as far as his family was concerned, the only three words that meant truly anything, was “I love you,” something he told them every day. He discovers the book ‘Meditations,’ by Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor and philosopher, and learns about a miraculous series of ambitious spiritual reflections and exercises established as the emperor tried to understand himself and the universe. As someone whose job depended upon him speaking all the time, Frank decides to take a vow of silence until he solves the case. In doing so, his senses become more heightened, the rustling of a newspaper, the whispering of two friends, approaching footsteps from behind, anything and everything becomes more cognizant and helps him to observe situations that he couldn’t before. When a group of Russian thugs try to attack him, with his new abilities and martial arts training, he successfully thwarts their efforts and chases them off but not before getting hurt in the process. A nurse who just happens to be passing by, Sheila (Paz Vega), stops to give him aid and in the process, saves his life. The two become friends and she teams up with him to try and solve his case but just when he thinks he has found his suspect, he discovers distressing evidence, and someone whom he thought was a friend, just might be the person he was looking for all along.
Everything about “Acts of Vengeance” is pedestrian, the story, the supposed “surprise twist” at the end, there is absolutely nothing original about the film whatsoever but still, you can’t take your eyes off Mr. Banderas. There is nothing more heartbreaking than watching a grown man, at the height of his career, be reduced to a broken down shell of his former glorious self but like the Phoenix, he slowly rises out of the ashes and becomes whole again, with a newfound respect for everyone and everything around him. Karl Urban is another fine actor but sadly, he is reduced to nothing more than a glorified cameo, a role that could have been played by any other actor out there. Had the ending gone in a different direction, the movie, overall, might have turned out much better but instead we are reduced to the villain, while they approach Frank, gun in hand, disclosing, in explicit detail, why they did what they did and it immediately brought back memories of Austin Powers and how those films parodied every James Bond movie, where the bad guy would proceed to inform Bond about their intentions for world domination, just to have the super spy escape and eventually save the day, thanks to the villain’s egregious exposition. If this were a comedy, it might have worked but since it clearly isn’t, this one factor is what caused the movie to fail.
Now available on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital HD