Vengeance: Ben (BJ Novak), a New Yorker writer, gets a phone call one night that his “girlfriend” Abby has passed away. Abby’s parents approach Ben believing they were a couple, when in fact Abby and Ben had only met on a few occasions a long time ago. Ben decides to attend the funeral in Texas so as not to upset his family. But when he arrives in Texas, he learns that Abby’s brother Ty (Boyd Holbrook) wants them to team up to get revenge on the man responsible for Abby’s death.
BJ Novak is no novice when it comes to creating critically acclaimed stories, considering he’s credited for writing and directing The Office – the award-winning comedy series in which he played Ryan Howard was. Novak demonstrated his ability to juggle multiple responsibilities in his feature film directorial debut, Vengeance, and he deserves immense credit for the film’s sensible humor, emotional depth, and satire of the social media age.
The familiar trope of a man in a big city learning to love an almost desolate small town and its inhabitants is the most obvious theme of the film. But unlike many previous incarnations of this trope, the film features an unconventional journey of warmth and self-discovery for its protagonist, Ben. Through Ben, the narrative also explores the ideas of isolation and alienation in society in the age of social media. Abby’s family treats Ben like one of their own, which is something she hasn’t felt in years even with her own family.
The film’s supporting characters are vital to the story, despite limited screen time. They help provide a new perspective on America as a nation and on Ben himself, as he works on a podcast investigating the mysterious circumstances surrounding Abby’s death. While it may seem like the mystery won’t present itself as a major plot device, it surprisingly develops into something profound and compelling.
Ashton Kutcher as the charismatic and sweet music producer is an excellent character who adds depth to the story. While Boyd Holbrook has proven he’s equally adept at playing scheming villains like Logan and The Sandman, he’s also a lovable character in Vengeance. The supporting characters also add value to Ben’s unintentional journey of self-discovery.
Despite the film’s gripping screenplay and intriguing storyline, the ending is almost different from the film or at least very unexpected. While this certainly doesn’t diminish the quality of the film as a whole, it is jarring to an extent. If not for one particular scene, Vengeance could easily have been considered one of the best low-budget Hollywood productions of the year.
Verdict: BJ Novak’s feature film directorial debut is definitely a cinematic triumph. The film has witty dialogues and an engrossing storyline, and social commentary on contemporary society. The various references to issues affecting modern society as a result of social media are hard to miss but subtle enough to invest in the story.