How far would you go for a good story? Can any of us reconcile the vast differences that divide us along geographical and political lines in the U.S.? And, most importantly, what if the person trying to wrap their head around all this just so happens to be a big ol’ jerk? “Vengeance” sees writer/director B.J. Novak starring as perhaps the most terrifying protagonist there is: an irresponsible, privileged, and disillusioned white guy living in New York City who’s trying to branch out from online journalism to podcasting about Important Topics™. Thankfully, Novak seems well-aware of how insufferable a character like Ben Manalowitz is and steers directly into the skid as much as possible.
This, as it turns out, proves to be the key to making “Vengeance,” Novak’s feature debut as a director, work even half as well as it does.
Introduced in painfully online fashion (for more on that, check out our review here) as a typically self-inflated ego searching for the singular story that will sum up all of humanity’s troubles and turn him into a star, Novak makes the purposeful choice to kick off the action in this quasi-whodunit tale by highlighting Ben’s sheer unlikability. In the middle of a one-night stand, Ben receives a phone call about a random woman he once slept with years ago and never thought about again. As it turns out, she’s recently died under awfully suspicious circumstances and, for some reason, her Texas-based family seems convinced that she’d been in a serious, long-term relationship with Ben. Cornered into flying down for the funeral, the ever-condescending Ben quickly realizes that he can exploit these tragic circumstances for his own ends and center himself in the drama of a lifetime.
It’s one thing for a well-known actor from a beloved sitcom to jump to the other side of the camera with a blistering, macabre, and dryly humorous noir. It’s quite another to do so with a movie with as much on its mind as “Vengeance” does. The film is now available to stream on Prime Video.