Vengeance is a hard movie to critique, because the more you talk about it, the more you could potentially spoil its premise. It deals with many topics: murder, classism, and judgment. It doesn’t necessarily hit all of those notes in a sufficient manner, but this B.J. Novak-helmed story (which he directed and wrote) is definitely worth watching, at the very least, to get the bits and pieces it tries to convey.
The gist is that NYC writer/potential podcaster Ben Manalowitz (B. J. Novak) is called up by a relative of a former ex (named Abby Shaw), and asked to attend her funeral in Texas. In a twist, Ben barely knew her at all, and treated her as a fling and a distant memory. Deciding to take the opportunity to do a podcast dealing with the family, the grief involved, and Texas culture, he takes the case.
It’s a unique setup, and an opportunity for Novak to take the story into several different directions. Ben deals with all sorts of eccentric characters, while discovering his own superficiality along the way, which is a compelling narrative for an unconventional mystery/dark comedy hybrid.
Everyone here came to play, particularly the underrated J. Smith-Cameron, who plays Abby’s mother Sharon. Ashton Kutcher also sells his turn as the mysterious Quinten Sellers with enthusiasm, and Boyd Holbrook is continually entertaining as Abby’s brother Ty.
“Vengeance, by and large, is a character-driven film. You get to dive into several of them in particular…”
Vengeance, by and large, is a character-driven film. You get to dive into several of them in particular, leaving you wanting more in both good and bad ways. The meta-angle of the podcast itself (and some of the dialogue therein) is a little over the top and clumsy, but it gets the themes of Vengeance across in a decent manner.
There’s some potential here that wasn’t executed on. Without giving away much, the hour and 40ish minute runtime feels too short, especially given some of the revelations involved with the actual mystery. It almost would have been better served as a limited TV series, so we can get to know some of these characters better (as well as some more reflection on Ben’s life before he visited Texas).
All that said, Vengeance is a great “rainy day afternoon” flick. There’s enough dry humor there to keep people watching, amid the genuine connection to some of the cast that drives the mystery forward. B. J. Novak has created a blueprint for a potentially more explosive second effort, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next.