Neither tragic or particularly unintentionally funny, Rage slogs forward with blood-spurting pathos to an ultimately disingenuous twist conclusion, offering little more than a revenge relic pretending that the ethical treatise of A History of Violence never happened. It’s as if director Paco Cabezas relishes the shotgun-pumping climax of Rolling Thunder not as an end, but a methodology, since the film takes every opportunity to be as gruesome as possible. Perhaps even this is giving Cabezas too much credit, since his sophomoric, gut-check theatrics are more tailored to direct-to-video aesthetics, replete with atrocious dialogue like “I need some help. Can you meet me by the construction site?” and perpetual bursts of violence, ultimately amounting to an unsightly cinematic mélange of bloodshed and mayhem, accompanied by grating heavy metal on the soundtrack.
Primary blame has to be placed on Cabezas, since Jim Agnew and Sean Keller’s script, while problematic, contains some engaging, revisionist material at its core. Paul (Nicolas Cage) seeks vengeance against a gang of Russian mobsters following his daughter Caitlin’s (Aubrey Peeples) kidnapping. Effectively, Paul believes the kidnapping equates with punishment for his past sins 20 years prior, involving a hit against the mob. Wrangling up a pair of old bros to join in on his gun-toting rampage, Paul sets out to answer one act of violence with over a dozen more. Cabezas takes Agnew and Keller’s primary concept of a man reformed to societal standards, yet still possessing an unquenchable thirst for violence, and opts for abject, pseudo-tragic solemnity and hardened, guitar-thrashing scenes of monochromatic gunplay over stringent, genre-reflexivity. Nothing about Cabezas’s formal choices suggest a director offering declarative statements pertaining to the scene at hand; there’s no sense of grue poetry or even ironized agony. Rather, as in a scene where two goons toss a cinderblock from a window in order to choke a woman to death, it’s merely stomach-churning and sickly. Nearly every scene unfolds on a similar plane.
The screenwriters also commit their share of miscues. In an early scene when Caitlin explains she’s reading Julius Caesar at school, it’s meant a moment of portentous foreshadowing, with its “die is cast” prophetics a zero-sum game of genre-rooted themes signifying nothing beyond the promise of bullet holes and an eventual, anguished howl from Cage. However, the doom-and-gloom sense of too-far-gone justice is given momentary respite in a late third-act reveal that signals Paul’s unhinged behavior as misplaced. It’s an admittedly goofy narrative turn, but one nonetheless meant to redirect the film’s preceding, relentless legitimation of Paul’s bloodthirst, a welcome gesture in a genre often too keen to relish in vengeance achieved. Welcome, at least, were this specific reveal not so thoroughly meaningless as a rejoinder to Paul’s psychopathic bid for peace-by-firearms.