Vengeance is a Focus Features/Blumhouse Productions film written and directed by B.J. Novak. Ben Manalowitz (Novak) is a highly successful writer looking to break into the podcasting world. His wish comes true when Ty Shaw (Boyd Holbrook) calls him with the news that one of his old flings Abilene (Lio Tipton) died. Ben decides to stay in Texas to interview the Shaws and other locals, making Abilene the subject of his podcast. There are just two things wrong with this plan. One: The Shaws believe that Ben and Abilene’s relationship was far more serious than it actually was. And two: Ty believes that Abilene’s death was foul play and intends to take vengeance – and draws Ben into it.
This film marks Novak’s directorial debut, following on the heels of his FX on Hulu series The Premise. Both The Premise and Vengeance attempt to tackle weighty topics; the latter, in particular, is interested in why people seek vengeance. It also explores the cultural clash between different parts of America. Ben, a Jewish writer who lives in New York, is often befuddled by Texan customs throughout Vengeance’s runtime. I will give Novak credit for doing his research; as a native Texan, there are things in this film that resonated strongly with me – including the true meaning of “bless your heart” as well as the glory of Whataburger.
Novak’s direction is also nothing to sneeze at. Long tracking shots capture the setting and rising sun, and most of the direction is handheld which lends a sort of authenticity to the process. And every so often, scenes will cut from the dusty plains of Texas to the sleek, modern offices of New York, further underlining the difference between the two cities. Should Novak direct more films, he should definitely continue to refine his style – especially as it pertains to themes of duality.
However, while Novak proves to be an adept hand behind the camera, he’s the weakest link in his cast. It’s Holbrook and Issa Rae who steal the show as Ty and Ben’s editor Eloise, respectively. Holbrook, best known for his roles in genre fare like Logan and The Predator, flips the script by playing a guy who wants to seem like a badass but is really searching for any sort of meaning behind his sister’s death. And Rae gets some of the film’s funniest lines, including a bit about how there are too many white guys with podcasts. Her limited screen time will probably make viewers long for another season of Insecure. Even Ashton Kutcher gets to shine as an eccentric music producer – though his character is involved in an unnecessarily convoluted conclusion.
Vengeance is an ambitious if unwieldy directorial debut from B.J. Novak that attempts to balance dark humor with profound truth. While not on the same level of other Focus Features films like The Northman and Brian and Charles, it still shows some impressive technical work on Novak’s part and should provide a nice counter-balance to some of the bigger theatrical offerings.
Vengeance is in theaters now.
Vengeance is an ambitious, if unwieldy directorial debut from B.J. Novak that attempts to balance dark humor with profound truth. While not on the same level of other Focus Features films like The Northman and Brian and Charles, it still shows some impressive technical work on Novak’s part and should provide a nice counter-balance to some of the bigger theatrical offerings.
Born and raised in Texas, Collier “CJ” Jennings was introduced to geekdom at an early age by his father, who showed him Ultraman and Star Trek: The Next Generation. On his thirteenth birthday, he received a copy of Giant Size X-Men #1 and dove head first into the realm of pop culture, never looking back. His hobbies include: writing screenplays and essays, watching movies and television, card games/RPG’s, and cooking. He currently resides in Seattle.