“The problem is you got all these bright, creative lights and nowhere to plug in their energy so it gets channelled into conspiracy theories.”Quentin Sellers
B.J. Novak may be best known for portraying Ryan Howard in the US version of The Office, but he was also an original member of the writing team. As Novak turns his hand to writing and directing a feature, his ear for dialogue and ability to draw wisdom from unexpected sources prove to be Vengeance’s strength. Novak also stars as writer-turned-podcaster Ben Manalowitz, a womaniser who finds himself drawn into the death of Abilene, a previous hookup. Exploiting her family’s belief that the two were a couple, he is able to insinuate himself into their tragedy, setting up a dark satire of the true crime genre. As he discusses the story with his producer, I found myself wondering if Vengeance’s scattershot approach might be better suited a serialised format to mirror its subject matter, as investigating the circumstances of Abilene’s death serves as a vehicle for Manalowitz to analyse rural America. Much of the humour lies in Novak’s bemused fish-out-of-water performance as a New Yorker exposed to small town Texas, working best when he is forced to re-evaluate his assumptions — particularly in respect of local music producer Quentin Sellers, played by a supremely relaxed Ashton Kutcher, offering the film’s most nuanced view of the townsfolk. The film’s closing takes a deliberately jarring turn that I found ineffective, though I know others have found it refreshing. I felt it cheapened my connection with Vengeance, though there is still much to appreciate.