Thursday, May 20, 2010

In short: Vigilante (1983)

Industrial electrician Eddie Marino (Robert Forster) is your typical mild-mannered family man, until a gang more or less randomly hurts his wife and kills his little son. Although his colleague Nick (Fred Williamson) tries to recruit Eddie for his own little vigilante crusade, the man decides to let the justice system run its course.

Of course, this being a movie called Vigilante and all, "the system" is totally corrupt, and the only gang member that is indicted at all comes away with a suspended sentence of two years. The only one actually landing in jail is Eddie himself for his violently displeased conduct in the court room. With the help of a randomly helpful Woody Strode, Eddie survives his thirty days in jail.

All the while, the film has kept the audience up to date on the dubious achievement of Nick and his merry band of thugs. They seem quite adept at torturing and killing people. It's the American Way, I know.

When Eddie is released, he at once goes to Nick and asks the chief vigilante for some help in a little murder spree of his own.

William Lustig's Vigilante is a technically well done version of your typical vigilante film, with all the usual problems of the genre, especially an annoying tendency to bore the viewer with long self-righteous speeches that are supposed to convince the viewer of the rightness of going on private killing sprees, but mostly succeed in dragging down the movie's pace and insulting me through their stupidity.

Vigilante isn't all stupid all the time though. The film has a lot of small moments and gestures that strongly hint at a discomfort with the actions of its supposed heroes, suggesting that Nick and Eddie are as violently unhinged as the people they are going after. Which they are. These moments make a strange contrast with Nick's speeches and the emotionally manipulative way Lustig sets up the court session. It feels as if one half of the film is cheerleading for vigilantism and the other, less loud half, is convinced of its utter uselessness.

What the film features in any case are very strong appearances of its lead actors. Forster and Williamson and their all-cult-movie-star supporting cast are giving the sort of shaded performances that hint at disquieting depths and breaking-points in the characters they are playing. This aspect puts Vigilante more in the tradition of Italian cop and vigilante movies of the 70s, and I wouldn't be surprised if Lustig had planned his film as an homage to those films.

Unfortunately, Lustig is no Enzo G. Castellari, and although the film's action is appropriately dry and mean, the American just isn't as good at handling the dramatic parts of the movie, even though the actors are doing everything possible to hand them to him on a silver platter. At times, the film seems to be too interested in bloviating about the evils of "the system", instead of basing its violence on the inner lives of characters who would provide ample opportunity for it.

The pacing of the non-violent scenes is just a little bit off, too, throwing the film out of its rhythm repeatedly by going on just a little too long to keep the film's momentum going.

Lustig's movie is not bad, it's just not as good as the movies it seems to base itself on.


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