Justice Searches for Truth and a Post-9/11 Way
MOVIE REVIEW | 'JUSTICE'
In New York, Justice Searches for Truth and a Post-9/11 Way
By DAVE KEHR
Published: April 28, 2004
Michael Jai White, left, and Erik Palladino in "Justice."
Evan Oppenheimer's independent feature "Justice" follows the currently fashionable formula ("21 Grams," "Kill Bill," et al.) of laying out a number of apparently unrelated stories and gathering them together at the end, thus making a grand statement about fate and human interdependence.
Despite its outsize ambitions Mr. Oppenheimer's film, which opens today at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater in the East Village, is generally low-key and likable, thanks mainly to a talented cast that includes Erik Palladino, formerly of "E.R."; Ajay Naidu of "Office Space"; and Daphne Rubin-Vega from "Anna in the Tropics" on Broadway.
Mr. Palladino plays Drew, a 30-ish writer of comic books, who finds in the wake of 9/11 that the inherent escapism of his chosen form no longer suits him. He convinces his reluctant publisher (David Patrick Kelly) to let him start a new character, Justice, an ordinary New Yorker without superpowers. Justice, dressed in the black robes of a judge, will cruise the streets of the city, righting wrongs with the aid of only a high-powered flashlight ("the Light of Justice!") and a stun gun. Drew's point is that ordinary people can be heroes, too, just like the friend he lost when the World Trade Center was destroyed.
Mr. Naidu is Mohammed, a recent immigrant from India who operates a coffee-and-bagels cart near Madison Square Park. In Mr. Oppenheimer's asynchronous structure, time moves much more slowly for Mohammed than it does for the other characters. While weeks go by for Drew, only minutes have passed each time Mr. Oppenheimer cuts back to Mohammed's cart, where he is waiting anxiously for a delivery of fresh bagels in time for his morning rush.
The third major character, Roberta (Ms. Rubin-Vega), is an energetic, fast-talking social activist who spends her days stalking City Hall budget bureaucrats, seeking money for the East Harlem agency she heads. Roberta also desperately wants to have a child, a subject she discusses with her husband via cellphone as she charges from appointment to appointment.
As Mr. Oppenheimer slowly gathers his threads, the characters live out their minidramas in the gathering shadow of overwhelming tragedy. The separate episodes, though, are loosely written and not very dramatically compelling in themselves, and the viewer is left with plenty of time to wonder what these people have to do with one another. The final revelation proves to be both a genuine surprise and a mild letdown, ingeniously deployed but thematically obvious.
Written and directed byEvan Oppenheimer; director of photography, Luke Geissbuhler; edited by Allison Eve Zell; music by Nenad Bach; production designer, Beth Kuhn; produced by Amy R. Baird and Amelia Dallis. At the Two Boots Pioneer Theater, 155 East Third Street, at Avenue A, East Village. Running time: 80 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Erik Palladino (Drew Pettite), Michael Jai White (Tre), Daphne Rubin-Vega (Roberta), Ajay Naidu (Mohammed), Catherine Kellner (Mara Seaver), Marisa Ryan (Julia) and David Patrick Kelly (Marty).