Judge Gordon Sullivan might like an Act or Two of Musical Comedy once in a while, too.
"Nobody can make me believe my husband is a criminal."—Maria (Gina Gershon)
Terrorism is a touchy subject. Though everyone but the most outrageous conspiracy nuts will admit it exists, there's intense debate about how extensive it is, how much of a threat it represents, what exactly causes it, and, perhaps most importantly, what to do about it. All these questions haven't quite pushed terrorism out of the realm of popular culture (although the subject is nowhere near its Eighties height, when terrorists were an easy crutch for every action movie), but filmmakers have had to learn to tread lightly for fear of giving offense (and losing money at the box office). This fact partly explains why Turkish director Mahsun Kirmizigül's 2010 film Act of Vengeance isn't seeing release until 2012 (though it doesn't at all explain why the film's original title, Five Minarets in New York was changed). A non-American director plus a terrorist plot must have made this flick a hard sell, but it was more likely held back by a hackneyed plot and two-dimensional characters. Not even a solid Blu-ray presentation can save this flick from oblivion.
When a Turkish family man is arrested, it sends off alarms in Turkey's anti-terror organization. Two Turkish agents are dispatched to America because the apparently innocent family man might be the renowned terrorist Dajjal (Turkish for Anti-Christ). When he disappears during custody, however, even his family has to wonder if he did so because he's being persecuted or because he's a terrorist. With agents from both Turkey and the FBI on his tail, he won't stay free for long.
I genuinely admire what Act of Vengeance has set out to do. First, the film tries to point out that perhaps the U.S. response to terrorism isn't the most effective way to combat the problem. Between lackluster communication, narrowly focused searches, and institutional entropy that won't respond to changing conditions (or admit when it's wrong), the U.S. anti-terror effort could be better. Kudos to Act of Vengeance for at least bringing this question to light. The other thing the film does is tackle the anti-terror problem from a perspective other than that of the United States, specifically the Turkish and Muslim perspectives. Though we pay lip service to our allies in the War on Terror, the idea of focusing a terrorism thriller on non-U.S. agents is a solid one.
Sadly, good intentions are not enough to save Act of Vengeance. Though the film obviously wants to give us something a bit different by offering a new perspective that might make us think about the problems with U.S. anti-terror policy, Act of Vengeance is watered down by stock characters and well-worn plot devices. I for one would love to see realistic characters and situations in a terrorism-themed film, but Act of Vengeance isn't that film. We get the same run-of-the-mill non-American characters we've seen in countless movie and TV shows post-9/11 and the game of "find the rogue terrorist" is well past its expiration date.
Not that Act of Vengeance is all bad. The performances are fine, at least judged against the transparent nature of their characters. Seeing veterans like Danny Glover and Robert Patrick in these roles is a bit disheartening, but they indicate the general level of quality that the acting achieves. Similarly, the action set pieces that dot the film are well-handled, though they appear to have been achieved on the kind of budget that most Hollywood films spend on catering.
Act of Vengeance (Blu-ray) is similarly strong, at least for the material. The 2.35:1 AVC-encoded video looks solid. Detail is generally strong, colors have an appropriate steely-tint, and dark scenes have impressive black levels. Digital artifacts aren't a problem, though some scenes suffer from softness that borders on out-of-focus. Though the film doesn't have that Hollywood sheen, it looks good for its budget. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is more impressive, with clear dialogue from the center and a good balance with the film's score. Atmosphere is occasionally provided by the surrounds, which kick up more during action scenes. Sadly, no extras are included. Considering that Act of Vengeance is apparently a bit of a pet project of its director, it's sad that there isn't more here from him.
Act of Vengeance isn't an awful movie, just one full of wasted potential. Though it seems to promise a new take on post-9/11 terror, it really just reheats the same old stock characters with the tiniest of twists. It's worth a rental for those with an interest in terrorism thrillers, but otherwise not a flick to seek out.
Guilty of taking on too much and doing too little with it.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Millennium Entertainment
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