When you step out your front door, do you ever feel helpless and that your neighborhood is falling apart? Do you believe the only person who can make a difference is you? An everyman is pushed to his moral limits in writer/director RJ Cusyk’s Keeping Justice.
Michael (Hayden Mackey) is a pressure cooker about to crack. He works a mundane 9-to-5 with a sexual pervert of a co-worker. But it’s the state of the outside world that makes him want to burst and pushes him to his limits. Crime is out of control, and the police are either helpless or don’t care. After several tragic events, Michael finds himself pushed over the edge.
First, a woman is found beaten to death in front of his office. Then, on the way home, Michael helps a young girl who was raped. But, when he tells her to go to the police, she shrugs him off, knowing they won’t do a thing. Frustrated with the state of his hometown, he goes out for a late night walk and encounters a gang rape, along with a corrupt police officer who wants to take his turn. He explodes and murders the gang and the dirty cop. The following day, the dead officer is lauded as a hero, while Michael seemingly gets away with the killings as only the victim (Karla Alvarez) knows what really happened.
Right from the get-go, you’ll see that Keeping Justice is a micro-budget indie thriller, often struggling to overcome its lack of money. So let’s start with the film’s challenges and move our way up. First, it’s clear the feature had no real production design budget, which comes with its own pros and cons. Cusyk makes great use us what he has available. He shoots in real locations — homes, real offices — which quite frankly is sometimes better than trying to create locations from scratch.
As with most vigilante movies, there is ample blood and violence. But, keeping within its low-budget restraints, the filmmaker makes good use of stealthy camera angles, quick edits, and some cinematic magic to pull off the blood and gore.
“…Michael seemingly gets away with the killings as only the victim knows what really happened.”
Keeping Justice suffers most in the acting. Across the board, the acting feels scripted, meaning that the cast is more concerned about saying the lines they’ve memorized than “digesting” them into their character to feel natural. There are somber moments involving the aftermath of a sexual assault, and unfortunately, the actors are just not able to adequately handle the emotional reality of these moments. For indie filmmakers, finding time to rehearse before shooting will exponentially improve any production.
Mackey is good as Michael and carries most of the movie. But he lacks some of the intense emotional depth needed to pull off the character. There are some dark places that the character needs to go to, and he doesn’t get there.
The best part of Keeping Justice is the story. Though far from perfect, Cusyk delves into the mind of a vigilante. Michael is not a beefed-up ex-cop or superhero. Instead, he’s represented as an everyman. He’s an average guy who’s fed up with the deterioration of his city and realizes that he’s the only one who really cares.
Michael also realizes the consequences of his actions and how it affects his personal life. This newfound sense of justice affects how he feels about the office bully, while the slow deterioration of his soul affects any chance at love with co-worker Karen (Anna McShane). Since vigilantism is illegal most about everywhere, Michael becomes increasingly paranoid that he will be found out.
Once you know what you’re getting yourself into with Keeping Justice, the film becomes a recommendation. I found Michael’s story intriguing to explore, especially for a micro-budget indie. RJ Cusyk crafts a decent thriller from nothing, but I wish that elements within his control would have been better handled.
"…Cusyk crafts a decent thriller from nothing..."