This tense and somewhat unusual revenge thriller stars Antonia Banderas as celebrity lawyer Frank Valera – a man who loses everything dear to him and thus is forced to re-assess his life.

The film begins with a quote from Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius’ – taken from his personal writings known as ‘Meditations’. The camera then cuts to a lively street scene and a car stopping outside a restaurant. Frank Valera gets out of the car and enters the restaurant but, as we find out minutes later, not to order food but to gate-crash the kitchen and assault one of the cooks inside. At first there seems no particular reason for the assault, however, the film then rewinds and the story begins one year earlier. Gradually it is revealed how Valera came to attack one of the kitchen staff in the restaurant.
Frank is happily married to his wife Sue (Cristina Serafini) and the couple have a daughter, Olivia (Lilian Blankenship) who participates in a talent show at her local school – eager to perform a song she often sings with her dad. However, due to his work commitments and his latest high profile case Frank misses Olivia’s performance and arrives at the school minutes after she and Sue had left. Disappointed, Sue emails a video recording of Olivia’s performance to Frank to make him feel extra guilty for having missed his daughter singing. Frank buys a teddy bear with the words ‘I’m sorry’ on it – one of many presents (and many teddies) for Olivia to make up for his lack of time for her. Back home Frank is surprised to find the house deserted – at first he assumes that Sue and Olivia might have gone for a meal after the school performance but when midnight approaches and they still aren’t back he gets seriously worried. Instead, the police arrive to inform Frank that his wife and daughter have been found murdered and their bodies dumped in a ditch nearby a train yard. There seems no reason for the brutal murder though police suggest that members of the Russian Mafia, which operate in the area, may have committed a carjacking which went wrong.

At the funeral, Frank’s father-in-law Chuck (Robert Forster) makes it crystal clear that he never ever wishes to hear Frank’s voice again nor ever see him again – holding him responsible for the death of his daughter and granddaughter. Distraught with guilt, Frank goes off the rails for the next few weeks and attends illegal boxing matches during which he provokes fighters who then beat him to a pulp – it is his way to punish himself. Meanwhile the police are no closer to solving the murder, Detective Lustiger’s only clue is a golden fibre found at the murder scene. Frank’s downward spiral continues which results in his boss recommending he take some time off work… in fact he quits his job to focus on avenging the death of his family but has no idea how. An accidental run-in with a pimp and a consequent fight which sees Frank crashing through the window of a bookshop changes things: he crashes onto a book called ‘Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and, taking the blood-smeared copy with him, he realises upon reading it that in order to avenge his family he must stop being self-destructive and instead become a master of various fighting techniques. This is all the more important since police officer Strode (Karl Urban) tells him that the inquiry has become a ‘cold case’ as the police cannot seem to find any clues nor suspects. Frank decides to take matters into his own hands. Thanks to a nurse called Alma (Paz Vega), who happens to rescue him and tend to his wounds after Frank got into a brutal fight with Russian thugs, he takes her home to safety when she reveals that she has a ‘past’ involving the thugs. Finally he receives a useful clue from Alma about a man who may have witnessed the killing of his family… but the ensuing discovery of what really happened on the night of the double murder is much more shocking then Frank could ever imagine…

ACTS OF VENGEANCE is a tense and well-acted thriller with a twist that you don’t see coming (unless you’re Sherlock Holmes that is). Banderas is in top form as a man driven by revenge and despair, Paz Vega is the perfect opposite as the caring person who keeps him together, both physically and psychologically. The overall atmosphere is suitably gritty and full of menace. We don’t actually find out in which city the action takes place except somewhere in the States but in a way it doesn’t really matter.