Vendetta was directed and written by Jared Cohn (Deadlock, Lord of the Streets) and stars Clive Standen (Vikings, Vault), Theo Rossi (Escape the Field, Ghosts of War), Lauren Buglioli (Transference, Florida Man), Kurt Yue (By Night’s End, Cobra Kai), Cabot Basden (Watchmen mini-series, Black Lightning), Bruce Willis (Death Wish, A Day to Die), and Thomas Jane (The Last Son, Breach). It follows a father as he’s roped into a battle against a gang after getting vengeance for his murdered daughter.
The Plot: It should be apparent to most that they’ll be getting a routine rendition of an oft-told story, but Cohn tries a little harder to change some details around and make something at least slightly more memorable in doing so. That effort is noticeable and commendable, but the outcome isn’t different enough to be great.
Heading home after his daughter’s softball practice, William (Standen) decides to pick up some tacos, which makes a nice opportunity for Rory (Rossi) to encourage his brother Danny (Basden) to kill the unsuspecting girl as a gang initiation.
William can do nothing for his daughter, and neither can the police, who arrest Danny but don’t have enough evidence to convict him for her murder. This is hard to buy, given that the killing happened on a street in the middle of town, where there would surely be cameras of some kind, whether that be for the taco joint or for traffic’s sake. In the ensuing court hearing, William lets Danny off the hook for his minor charges, which is surprising to a degree.
Danny’s release delights his father, Donnie (Willis), but it doesn’t last long as William kills Danny that same night. At least, it seems so, but the movie never shows William finding out any of the information that would bring him where he needs to go. Detective Chen (Yue), William’s wife Jen (Buglioli), and inexplicably Rory are all thrown for a loop, which is again, hard to believe. He, as well as the cops, get the info though, which sends Rory into a frenzy as he launches attacks on William in retaliation. Cohn brings in some repercussive force, but it’s misplaced and jostles the flow of the story.
With some time having passed, William gets some help from arms dealer Dante (Jane), which allows him to go on the warpath against Rory and Donnie. It’s a one-man-army display from that point on, which has a bit more behind it thanks to the consequences of William’s actions, but it has issues getting to that point
The Characters: Family ties are a frequent appearance in Vendetta’s script, but it doesn’t devote the time necessary to bring the audience in on the relationships of the leading man before it gets to the action.
William is weak as a character and Cohn has little interest in the man. With only a brief birthday celebration with his daughter and Jen as detailing, he’s left as a blank slate for a long period of time. Through some clunky exposition at the end of the first act, we do learn that he was a Marine, which explains his capabilities.
But with a (re)training sequence in the middle of Vendetta, even this modicum of sketching feels bland. A conversation between William and Jen about his killing of Danny is a welcome addition as Jen gets the chance to be in on the plot, but we don’t know how things changed from before, which would’ve given more heft to the moment.
Antagonistic characters are a different story though, as Rory and Danny are given a little more to work with. Danny wants to follow in the footsteps of his family members but is reluctant about it. He hesitates when told to kill William’s daughter, but with the admiration of Rory and Donnie in mind, he commits the act. Rory is a tweaker who’s equally desperate to appease his father but with his drug problem, he’s a disappointment in Donnie’s eyes.
He clearly cares for his brother and to a lesser extent, his father, and will do anything to protect them, but his life path has twisted his perspective and resulted in his unhinged actions and shoot first, ask questions later mentality. Donnie runs a gang of sorts, although it’s never clarified as to what that entails, he wants someone to take up after him in due time, strictly bringing his sons into the criminal lifestyle.
Vendetta’s assorted side characters are a strong point too, with detective Chen catching onto William’s chaotic quest for good, empathizing with him and even offering some time to breathe and figure things out before they come for a conviction. Dante is a fun diversion that’s had his own run-in with Rory and Donnie, which brings him onto William’s side as a wisecracking armourer, and others pop up to assist William, which helps alleviate the banality of his character.
The Action: Vendetta wants to leave an impression with each burst of violence, and to some extent, it succeeds, even if taste can be sacrificed at times, though the vigilante action doesn’t suffer from that symptom.
Inciting the violent chain of events is a quick and aggressive assault, as Danny and Rory happen upon their victim by coincidence and taunt her with her impending death. That alone is enough of a visual, but Cohn didn’t reel himself in with the moment, offering a borderline tasteless execution that nonetheless gets the plot in motion. William’s strike back is equally brutal, following Danny in the dead of night with his daughter’s softball bat, ending in an effective and sufficiently bloody avengement that’s curiously more restrained than events prior.
With the ball rolling, there are a couple of minor shootouts which are surprisingly public. Surprising in the precedential sense, but they’re befitting of Rory’s character. In them, there’s a decent chase between William, Rory, and one of the gang members that ends with a snapped neck and cops on the scene. It’s short but shows that safety is out of the question with Rory on the loose. While it’s not really an action scene, a confrontation between the three warring men results in a rarely seen moment of consequence for these kinds of actioners.
Vendetta’s final battle starts with a disconnect from William’s presumed family man nature, the port of call isn’t special in that it’s a strip club that houses Donnie, his girls, drugs, and men, but the way William interacts with Rory is to-the-point, which sets him on a collision course that leaves the club in favour of a different location. It’s assisted by a distraction that William receives and the numbers not being in his favour. Like the rest of the action sequences, it’s familiar, but above average in execution.
The Technics: Vendetta had more funds available to it than many lower-budgeted action movies, but it’s not that much different in its look or feel, as it uses more locations than sets and has many debts to pay to predecessors in the genre.
Cohn does at least show growth as a director, able to create a coherent setting with defined spaces and interiors, although he has yet to develop any sort of specificity in his technique, which isn’t unique enough from a visual standpoint to set Vendetta apart from its brethren, which cinematographer Brandon Cox (Gasoline Alley, Escape Plan 2: Hades) is largely unhelpful with.
The pacing does become a problem by the midway point, as William is wounded which essentially reboots the movie with two starting points to its second act. It’s a good idea narratively, but the placement should’ve been further back, and the events touched up accordingly.
Vendetta isn’t a game-changer, as its plot and look are largely familiar, but it boasts some strong violent displays, antagonists, and side characters, acting across the board, and at least one uncommon moment of legitimate shock.