Lasso the truth in “Vengeance”

Published 11:30 am Tuesday, August 23, 2022

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By Evan Fitch

   Trading gumshoes for cowboy boots, “Vengeance” takes the mystery of film noir from the streets of the seedy city to the sprawling desert of west Texas. “Vengeance” offers a darkly comedic, often bumbling, and creatively reimagined detective story, and guarantees an entertaining time, engaging the viewer with consistent doses of dark humor and darker intrigue in equal measure. 


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“Vengeance” is the directorial debut, and a strong one at that, of B.J. Novak (Ryan, the temp from NBC’s “The Office”). Novak, who wrote the film too, also assumes the lead role: New York City journalist Ben Manalowitz. Ben is a cocktail of classic millennial caricatures—an east coast-big city faux intellectual, regurgitating buzzword philosophy and viewing the rest of the world outside of his bubble with a condescending reductionism. 


The film begins with Ben receiving a call from the family of a past fling. He believes the call is from the committed boyfriend of the family’s deceased relative, Abby Shaw. In a flight of narcissism, Ben accepts an invite to Abby’s funeral, under the false pretense of his “relationship” with her. Hoping to mine the suffering and denial of the family for his professional gain, he inadvertently steps into a tangled mystery. 


While “Vengeance” treads upon the same thematic and narrative boards as other films in the film noir genre, it uniquely embraces another modern genre, the pop-culture juggernaut of true crime. The main character’s motivations and portrayal function as a scathing critique of this genre, as he uses a deceased person’s darkest moments for trite social commentary and voyeuristic thrills. 


Ben is a stand-in for society’s participation in our morbid curiosities. He is a tourist in other people’s experiences, convincing himself that he’s lived a life well and full if he’s vacationed in others’ lives. He views his subjects as lesser threads in the American tapestry, yet, all the same, hoping to use their experiences to tell the “Great American Story,” unaware of the irony. His subjects are, in his eyes, “authentic” subjects, yet unfit to tell their own story.


However, within this satirical criticism of Ben, “Vengeance” also has a contrasting thread of optimism. While the film explores the personal and cultural differences between subsections of the American population, it leaves assumptions to be made, but never brought to the surface. In doing so, it makes for a more immersive film. Moreover, it is a film that argues for greater similarities between Americans than differences between them. In the spirit of bridging boundaries, we hope that both fans of humor and mystery alike join us for “Vengeance”!