We love vigilantes in fiction: heroes like Batman and Spider-Man inspire us to be better than we are despite the fact that they consistently break the law in order to uphold it. In reality, though, vigilantes aren’t so well-regarded or sometimes not as moral as our idealizations of them.
Eddie Marino (Robert Forster) is a good guy. He works hard, loves his wife and son, and obeys the law. In his eyes the system works, protecting regular citizens from criminals. His belief is put to the test when a street gang brutally attacks his wife and murders his son. When a corrupt judge releases the gang leader (who, bizarrely, looks and dresses like Che Guevera), Marino finally snaps and takes the law into his own hands.
Marino’s rage is understandable, and the movie does a good job of setting up how an ordinary, law-abiding guy could become a murderous vigilante. In fact, this movie is far more believable than other revenge fantasies, such as Charles Bronson’s Death Wish. Three-fourths of the movie involves the gradual erosion of Marino’s faith in the system; when he finally does decide to take revenge it’s completely believable and incredibly ugly.
The violence in Vigilante is brutal and completely unglamorous. This is not Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone cracking wise and inventing new ways to kill people; it’s fast, ugly, and terrible. I like that they tried to be as realistic as possible in the violence. This is an earnest attempt to show what happens when a person gives in to his violent, darker impulses but unfortunately this attention to realism makes this very difficult to watch.
The scene where the gang attacks Marino’s family is particularly awful; the way they tease his wife and eventually kill his son is heartbreaking and disturbing. It’s not often real violence is captured on screen and I’m thankful for that because this is nearly unwatchable, shaking you to the core.
I don’t think I will ever watch this movie again because of that. Vigilante shows the reality behind the fantasy we so often enjoy. I can appreciate what the filmmakers are trying to do here, but I can’t say that I enjoyed this in any way. It’s a true movie in that it succeeds in showing what it takes to create a real-life vigilante, and what becoming a vigilante does to that person, but it’s also dark, brutal, and exhausting.
The movie is presented Widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio) in 1080p HD resolution. English 7.1 DTS-HD and 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX language tracks are available, as are French, Dutch, and Italian in Dolby Surround 2.0. English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles are also provided. Even though this is an older movie, the transfer is very good, with no problems in either the audio or video.
Most of the extras on here are rather boring, but the audio commentary with Robert Forster and Fred Williamson is pretty good, mostly because of Fred. He’s got an entertaining, larger-than-life personality that comes through even in audio, and I enjoy listening to him.
Audio Commentary #1 with Co-Producer/Director William Lustig and Co-Producer Andrew W Garroni
Audio Commentary #2 with Co-Producer/Director William Lustig and Stars Robert Forster, Fred Williamson, and Frank Pesce
It seems odd to criticize a movie based on its realistic portrayal of its subject matter but that attention to realism makes this very difficult to watch. It’s not a bad movie, rather, merely a hard one to watch. I don’t want to watch again because of the disturbing feelings it brings out in me. Although one could easily argue that Vigilante is better than Death Wish, it just isn’t as entertaining.
Blue Underground presents Vigilante. Directed by: William Lustig. Starring: Robert Forster, Fred Williamson, Richard Bright, Turanya Alda, Don Blakely, Joseph Carberry, Willie Colon, Joe Spinell, Carol Lynley, and Woody Strode. Written by: Richard Vetere. Running time: 89 minutes. Rating: NR. Released on Blu-ray: September 21, 2010.