Whilst it’s not uncommon for usually reliable, oft-Oscar celebrated actors to slip into filmic mediocrity, Melissa Leo must’ve really needed a healthy paycheck when she opted to commit to Measure of Revenge. Perhaps at one stage offering a script worthy of her talents, but the final 92 minute result – one which mysteriously omits a writer credit and is apparently helmed by a director known simply as Peyfa (an Alan Smithee pseudonym, if ever there was one) – is one that not even her performance can save, no matter how desperately she tries.
Those hoping for Leo to adhere to the same type of no-nonsense badassery that has served Liam Neeson so well in his career of late can give up their hopes right now as Peyfa’s inexplicable film only teases Leo’s Lillian as a force to be reckoned with. Before she’s shooting thugs and threatening drug dealers with kitchen knives, Lillian is a respected Broadway actress, currently earning all the praise and flower arrangements for her role in Macbeth.
Her focus, however, is solely on returning son Curtis (Jake Weary), a fresh-out-of-rehab musician – we learn he’s had one solid hit to his name – who is desperately hoping to stay clean. Expecting a baby with his girlfriend (Jasmine Carmichael), Curtis seems to be on the right path, but Lillian can’t help but walk on eggshells around him. She’s seemingly right to feel so nervous around his potential relapse as, devastatingly, both he and his girlfriend are found dead not long after his return, both the apparent victims of an overdose.
Naturally distraught, and earning no help from the investigative officer, Lillian plays detective on her own accord, delving into the relationships Curtis had with his old bandmates and dealers. Her investigation leads her to Taz (Bella Thorne), a dealer and photographer, who clearly shared something of an intimate past with Curtis, who puts her in touch with the type of no-goods that might know the fact that there’s more to Curtis’s death than what it appears.
Whilst this narrative of a broken parent stopping at nothing for their child isn’t anything overtly original, Measure of Revenge at least attempts to skewer such a tested path with a little theatricality. Lillian’s journey being supported by the ghostly visions of characters she has previously played – including The Scarlet Letter‘s Hester Prynne – hopes to inject some reflection into proceedings. The script (written by whoever) feels like it’s aiming to truly justify Lillian’s actions and offer a serious musing on the effects of guilt and loss, but ultimately can’t rise above its own insulting simplicities.
Pedestrianly written (most likely the reason the penner opted out of being credited), amateurishly filmed (there’s an odd soft focus layered to most of the shots), and largely unengaging in its performances (Thorne honestly looks like she’s going to fall asleep at any given moment), Measure of Revenge only stays remotely steady at the wheel due to an all-too committed Leo. Though she occasionally succumbs to the uncomfortable melodrama of the material, this bizarre thriller mainly serves as reminder that her talents shouldn’t be wasted on such material. That is, of course, if this material even had a writer to begin with.
ONE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Measure of Revenge is screening in select theatres, digital and On Demand in the United States from March 18th, 2022. An Australian release is yet to be determined.