Do You Need Vengeance?
Vengeance released in theaters over the summer but came to streaming this fall. Created, directed and starring B.J. Novak (The Office), Vengeance follows the story of a podcaster who inadvertently gets drawn into solving the murder of a young Texas woman he barely knew.
Other critics gave Vengeance good but not glowing reviews. Is this because some critics were unwilling to read between the conservative lines?
The Conservative Critic asks: Is it entertaining? Does it have artistic/intellectual value? And is it liberal propaganda?
The Conservative Critic Meter Check: Vengeance
Overall Rating: Very Good
B.J. Novak as a writer is the exact kind of pretentious that I buy into. I know its snobby, I know its self-appreciating, but it seems to also know it and therefore I let myself enjoy it. Vengeance not only embodies this, but the concept is one of the primary themes of the film.
Vengeance explores the idea of a conspiracy from the lens of a “city liberal elite” challenging the ideas of “rural conservative proletariat.” But it’s not that prosaic. As the film progresses, it turns on itself and then again and even once more morphing into something all at once obvious, shocking, funny and deeply emotional. Novak brings to life characters who are not at all relatable to probably anyone on planet earth let alone in America but instead that are relatable to the stereotypes of our “kind” created by outside influences. But slowly those masks fall and the characters humanize along with the twisting storyline.
With its unique point of view, it’s murder mystery plotline and its conservative friendly values make Vengeance a more than worthy watch for those willing to try something different.
Is it entertaining?
Rating: A tad slow but plenty of twists
Vengeance is on the bare surface a thriller. There is a murder, there is a controversy over whodunnit and the majority of the plot follows the primary characters as they try to solve the case all the while threatened by the looming danger of whoevers tail they may be on. So in this sense, there is plenty of ‘turning of the screw’ and lots of twists and turns to keep viewers engaged.
It is a tad on the slow side, with Novak’s style relying on cheek and wit to give the film a more off-beat sense of credibility. Some of the set up and character development is a little sluggish for a traditional thriller but overall it doesn’t drag so hard the movie becomes boring.
Does it have artistic/intellectual value?
Vengeance is special. The last film that moved me as much as Vengeance was the story within the film Nocturnal Animals. Vengeance has far less brutality than the later but manages a similar slow emotional burn albeit with quite a bit more humor. Novak steps in front of the camera as well as behind to portray his lead, Ben Manalowitz, and does the role justice that perhaps only he could do as the creator of the character. As director, Novak relies on what I’ll refer to as “vintage” imagery for rural Texas. Think isolated gas station diners, rodeos and wide shots establishing the breathtaking breadth of the Texas wilderness. It’s gorgeous but it also works because it sort of propagates the perspective of this stereotypical liberal elite.
The story is really the star. The story as a plot is entertaining as a thriller and as a sort of coming of age comedy. But it’s also special in the amount of themes it manages to successfully tackle. It’s ultimately about truth. It’s about the truth in ourselves, the truth in conspiracy, and – one of my favorite legal concepts – the truth in the fact of a body.
The one weak spot in an otherwise stellar showing is unfortunately Ashton Kutcher (Jobs). Kutcher was apparently unable to take his character’s side which really weakened his power. His, unlike any other portrayals including the outrageously sexualized Kansas City Shaw played by Dove Cameron (Descendants), was cartoonish without the come down of humanity.
Overall, Vengeance was composed as well as I would expect from B.J. Novak which is to say, extremely.
Is it liberal propaganda?
Rating: I think it was conservative leaning but I’m thrown
Novak plays a lot with the concept of perception in Vengeance and in doing so makes a case for the underlying reality of a lot of conspiracies dismissed by mainstream media and leftists. Not only does Novak’s character, Ben, find himself falling into the very theory he dismissed as denial but he also uncovers a truth which is fundamentally a deeper and darker conspiracy than he could have imagined.
Additionally Novak plays with stereotypes in an interesting way where all of the characters including his own are creations of some existing stereotype such as the “city liberal elite” or the “rural conservative yokel.” His character of Ben is the intellectual subversion simp that only exists in the darkest corners of the liberal internet or scary bedtime stories in conservative households. The Texans he encounters are a wide array of conservative tropes from drunk uneducated trash to vampy sexual object. By tackling these tropes head on – he removed their power and allowed space for humanity.
Finally, there are pro-second amendment, anti-drug and anti-casual sexual relationship moral signaling that definitely fits the conservative mold moreso than the liberal.