B.J. Novak, Isabella Amara, Nathaniel Augustson, Grayson Berry
Comedy, Mystery, Thriller
Rated: R for language and brief violence
‘Vengeance’ is a darkly comic thriller about Ben Manalowitz, a journalist and podcaster who travels from New York City to West Texas to investigate the death of a girl he was hooking up with. While for him this relationship wasn’t serious, the mourning family have interpreted it as a true and deep love. When Ben arrives to the funeral, he learns from the family that some suspect foul play, which inspires him to create a podcast as they search for the woman’s killer.
B.J. Novak was able to craft some interesting tonal shifts with his directorial debut, but casting himself as the lead might have been the films undoing. There was never a feeling of authenticity with his performance that made his investigating, podcasting, and fish out of water narrative carry weight.
The humor in the first half lands for the most part, mainly in the complete love the family has for this complete stranger. The supporting performances from Isabella Amara, Nathaniel Augustson, Grayson Berry all stand out to me and lend the humor and realism that is missing from the story and lead performance. As the film deviates into a suspense thriller, the mystery feels deflated and ultimately ends in a way that I couldn’t deem as satisfying.
Overall, Vengeance has interesting components but it doesn’t know what it wants to be. The weight of directing and acting may have been to big to tackle for B.J. Novak, although he certainly has proven his technical competency and ability to stitch tones with coherency. Just wish we had more from the performances, the mystery, and the ending.