Actor B.J. Novak makes his directorial debut with a movie that delivers a mostly sharp commentary on what motivates the media in modern times. Novak, who not only directs, writes and stars in the the film, does a solid job of wearing multiple hats, and proves that he has the skills to carry this work load. Though his approach is mostly humorous, this satire does have a dark side that doesn’t get fully revealed until its final act.
Novak stars as journalist/podcaster Ben Manlowitz, a young single guy whose life is mostly focused on his aspirations, while his romantic life takes a major backseat. Ben’s life mostly revolves around becoming a successful influencer and has been desperately searching for the key story that will get him global attention. He inadvertently gets that opportunity when he finds out that a one-night-stand has tragically died, and that her family believes that he is the deceased’s paramour. Ty Shaw (Boyd Holbrook), the brother of Ben’s “girlfriend” Abilene (Lio Tipton), reaches out to Ben to inform him of his sister’s untimely death, but also wants to include him in his quest for revenge.
Ty honestly believes that Abilene has been murdered, and hopes to discover the truth behind her killing, and subsequently wants to eliminate her murderer. Ben sees this “story” as an opportunity to boost his fame and travels to Texas where he meets Abilene’s family and documents his experiences. As he further investigates her life and the events which lead up until her death, he discovers that Ty might be on to something.
As someone who was born and raised in Texas, I must say that B.J. Novak obviously has much love for the state and all that it has to offer. He also smartly has his critiques and commentary on the people here and just about everything he has to say is absolutely fair. Though his approach is mostly humorous and satirical, Novak genuinely seems to find Texas and its people quite endearing and never takes any mean-spirited jabs. Now granted, the Texas characters do sometimes come across as caricatures, but this actually changes as he develops them as the story goes along.
Novak’s performance is superbly restrained, as he perfectly allows his co-stars to shine as they should. He is absolutely credible as a journalist, as he takes a subtle and observant approach to his encounters with the colorful characters of the small Texas town. Boyd Holbrook is perfectly cast as Ty, as he is utterly charming, not-so-worldy, but definitely earnest in his quest for vengeance. The movie also features great performances by Dove Cameron, Ashton Kutcher, Lio Tipton, Issa Rae, J. Smith Cameron, and Zach Villa.
Though Vengeance is not a major cinematic tentpole that demands to be experienced on the big screen, it is a solid indie movie that movie audiences will enjoy for its story and rich characters. Texas audiences are sure to love the humor and references to the state with which they will certainly relate.