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Film / Acts of Vengeance (2017)

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"Punish only he who has committed the crime."
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Acts of Vengeance is a 2017 thriller/martial arts film directed by Isaac Florentine. It stars Antonio Banderas, Karl Urban and Paz Vega.

Frank Valera (Banderas) is an immensely successful lawyer with a reputation of having a silver tongue. One bad night, however, he returns home to find his wife and little daughter murdered in their car. Seeing his life crumble in front of his eyes, and upon finding out that the cops are completely in the dark with the case, Valera becomes a self-punishing alcoholic that finds solace as a tomato can in an illegal Mixed Martial Arts circuit. However, after getting in a street fight while trying to help a child prostitute, he falls through the window of a discount book store, where he fortuitously grabs Marcus Aurelius' Meditations to stop the bleeding of a wound. Valera then discovers the ancient philosophy of Stoicism, and resolves to become a killing machine and undergo a vow of silence until he discovers who killed his wife and daughter.


Not to be confused with the 1974 film Act of Vengeance.

Tropes in Acts of Vengeance include:

  • Artistic License – History: Valera's narration claims that ancient Stoics took vows of silence to focus on tasks, but in reality, while Stoics did value working hard and avoiding idle words, it's not known that they ever endorsed such extreme measures. Vows of silence were instead done by the Pythagoreans, another philosophical school that was popular in Rome before Stoicism became the hottest thing there. There was a Roman branch that mixed Stoicism and Pythagoreanism, the School of the Sextii, but those had a very limited influence (Seneca was their only important student, and he eventually left them for his own form of Stoicism, a much more traditional one) and aren't related to the mainstream Stoics Valera reads in the film.
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  • Bond Villain Stupidity: In their final showdown, Strode manages to overpower Valera and stab him with a piece of scrap, but instead of cutting his neck right there, he opts to try to choke him out with his arms. Unsurprisingly, Valera throws Strode away and uses the scrap against him, defeating him for good.
  • The Cameo: Valera's Karate sensei is played by director Florentine himself.
  • Cultured Badass: Valera becomes one after getting into philosophy. During his Training Montage, we can see him studying not only the Meditations, but also Sun Tzu's The Art of War, Miyamoto Musashi's The Book of Five Rings, Inazo Nitobe's Book of Bushido, a modern book about Zeno of Citium's lost The Republic, and Herodotus' The Histories.
  • Cycle of Revenge: Valera helps a criminal avoid justice, the criminal murders Strode's daughter, Strode murders Valera's family, Valera seeks to avenge his family and find the real killer.
  • Disposable Woman: Valera's wife and daughter basically just exist to be murdered, thus causing his vengeance quest. At least they're given some characterization at the beginning (making their deaths hit harder too).
  • False Friend: Strode seems like Valera's friend at first, giving him sympathy over the loss of his wife and daughter. He's the one who murdered them, and secretly loathes Valera. Later he discovers Strode had been stalking him before and they got close to facilitate the murders.
  • Idiot Ball: Twice by the same guy. After submitting Valera, Strode stabs him with a piece of scrap, yet instead of using it further to stab him to death or cutting his throat, he leaves it there and opts to try to kill Valera with a standing, flimsy rear naked choke. And then, when Valera throws him over his shoulder due to the hold's little stability, Strode forgets completely about the piece and just tries a triangle choke, another hold that leaves Valera's hands free and allows the lawyer to pull the piece out and stab Strode with it in return. From there, Valera's win is easy.
  • If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him!: Valera becomes convinced of this by reading Marcus Aurelius' advice that one should not become the same as the wrongdoer they seek justice against, sparing his wife and daughter's murderer for him to be convicted in court instead.
  • Imagine Spot: Valera has one of himself stabbing Strode, before deciding to just knock him out so he can be arrested instead.
  • Killer Cop: It turns out Strode, a police officer, murdered Valera's wife and daughter for revenge as Valera got the man who murdered his own daughter off, which left him free to murder her. He kidnapped them with the pretext of a traffic stop.
  • Off on a Technicality: It's mentioned Valera got an accused child murderer off due to a technicality. The man went on to kill Strode's daughter too, resulting in him later murdering Valera's wife and daughter for revenge.
  • Parting Words Regret: Valera considers the words "I love you" he says to his family the most important words he'll say in the whole day. On the day of his daughter's performance he promises her that he'll be there, but knows that he probably won't be able to keep his promise and doesn't say "I love you" at the end of the call because of guilt. After his family is murdered, he regrets both his empty promise and not saying the important words.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: While Valera's actions in a firm are implied to be shady from the start, the final act reveals that he thought nothing about helping dangerous criminals escape prosecution. His actions weren't malicious, and after the tragedy strikes, he leaves the firm.
  • Revenge by Proxy: To avenge his daughter who was killed because Valera helped a criminal escape justice, Strode kills Valera's family.
  • Shout-Out: The Russian mafia, the child prostitute and the protagonist quoting philosophy are a Whole Plot Reference to The Equalizer, a similar 2014 film starring Denzel Washington.
  • The Stoic: Valera becomes one, both in a literal and a figurative sense.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • Valera is beating up dudes until one of them pulls out a gun, which means troubles for you not matter how good of an unarmed martial artist you are.
    • During the final fight, Valera initially holds his own nicely, but being substantially older and much less experienced in real fighting than Strode, he ultimately fails to beat him.
  • Vigilante Man: Valera, dismayed by the inability of the police to find his wife and daughter's murderer, sets out on a quest to get vengeance on his own.