Justice Served is a low-key drama about grief, regret, and the often uncontrollable desire for revenge
Marvin Young’s directorial debut, Justice Served, tackles serious themes on a shoestring budget and places characters in surprising positions of power. With shades of 1983’s The Star Chamber and the Death Wish franchise, the film tells the story of three characters for whom revenge on those who have wronged them appears the only alternative.
The narrative focuses on Luke Palmer (Chase Coleman), a widower struggling to accept his wife’s violent death. Adding to the trauma is the fact that Corinne’s accused killer was found not guilty in a court of law. After traditional therapy fails to provide Palmer with the support he needs, he finds himself abducted while on a trip to Arizona.
Palmer awakes in a secluded glass room with a recording device, a keyboard, and a red button. Strapped in an electrified chair in the room across from Palmer sits Galen Terry (Jay Giannone), the tough-talking gangster who had been charged and acquitted of Corinne’s murder.
A robotic, Jigsaw-like voice instructs Palmer to interrogate the man he believes killed his wife, and to use the red button to send electric currents through the man’s body if he does not get the answers he desires. The film also follows two other plot lines, one involving Henry Callas (played coolly by Lance Henriksen), a hard-boiled and world-weary man accused of a terrible crime and persecuted by a grieving Astrid Page (Christina Rose). As these character-driven stories unfold, secrets rise to the surface and startling discoveries are made by each of the principal characters.
While certain scenes in Justice Served don’t always work, there’s an energy to the performances and to the overall storyline that will resonate with audiences.
The script, written by the director (better known by his stage name, Young M.C.), features plenty of hackneyed and profanity-laced dialogue that often makes the characters sound silly. That sticking point aside, the movie attempts to present three-dimensional people who are more than meets the eye. They are all driven by universal emotions such as love, anger, rage, and regret. They all have painful back-stories that add meaningful layers to a situation that would otherwise seem fairly preposterous. And as the characters interact and learn about one another, so does the audience realize that JUSTICE SERVED is a confidently-directed picture that shows real promise from everyone involved.
The movie avoids sentimentality in favor of a genuine attempt to dissect the nature of justice. Do people ever truly recover from personal trauma? When a person is killed, can his or her family members or loved ones ever find true justice or peace? And what is one to do when the legal system appears as corrupt as the accused criminals it tries to convict?
Though not always successful, Justice Served responds to these questions in a story that takes itself seriously—and for that the film is to be commended.
On the technical side, the film does have a few action sequences that work well, but the cinematography by Russell Bell does not capture in any significant way the bleakness and isolation of the primary setting. In addition, due to its dialogue-heavy script and its limited budget, Justice Served would have benefited from stronger visual or auditory tools. Certain lighting and color could have added additional excitement, symbolism, or meaning behind the story. A more powerful score could have contributed to the film’s suspense or drama.
While these suggestions might have helped the movie transcend is formula, Justice Served is an impressive debut that will entertain audiences who are interested in the law and the moral and ethical issues surrounding the criminal justice system.