Directed by: Sarah Daggar-Nickson
Premise: A woman (Olivia Wilde) who has escaped an abusive marriage lives off the grid and assists other women in similar situations.
What Works: There is a well-established genre of vigilante movies that includes titles such as The Crow and Death Wish and The Equalizer. These films are stories of trauma and catharsis in which people who have been viciously wronged try to even the score through violence. The morality of these films is often debated and many of them do endorse violence as a solution to society’s problems. Better films of this type, such as Taxi Driver and Ms. 45, question the efficacy of violence and have an earnest regard for the trauma endured by survivors. 2019’s A Vigilante is interesting in this regard. It’s a well-made film and the moviemakers offer exactly what fans of this genre look for in movies like this. But A Vigilante goes a bit deeper than the average revenge thriller and much of that is due to Olivia Wilde’s fierce performance. Wilde plays Sadie, a woman who has escaped from her abusive husband but at a terrible cost. She has found purpose in her life by working as hired muscle, beating and intimidating abusive men into letting go of their wives and girlfriends. Sadie’s trauma is evident throughout Olivia Wilde’s performance. She is tough but Sadie is not Charles Bronson’s self-assured psychopath of Death Wish. Instead, Sadie is haunted by what she’s been through and her violence is a way of making sense out of her pain. But the catharsis is fleeing and the supply of women in need of help seems endless. The filmmakers take the subject of domestic abuse seriously; in some of these movies the trauma is just a flimsy excuse to get to the prurient violence but A Vigilante puts a lot of emphasis on the experiences of domestic abuse survivors. The film’s nuanced understanding of violence and its lasting impact distinguishes this film from a lot of similar titles.
What Doesn’t: The first half of A Vigilante is told out of sequence. Sadie’s time at a women’s shelter is intercut with her adventures helping women out of abusive situations and otherwise beating up misogynists. That these scenes are not in chronological order is not readily apparent at first and the opening half of A Vigilante is a bit confusing because there are no obvious cues as to where these scenes belong in the timeline. This generally improves as the story moves along and the last third of the picture is entirely linear. The film’s transition to its climax rests on a significant coincidence. The final struggle is the logical climax for this story and its protagonist but there’s no preparing the audience for the big twist and so it feels as though it comes out of nowhere.
DVD extras: Featurette.
Bottom Line: A Vigilante is a well-made thriller with an excellent lead performance by Oliva Wilde. The movie offers a bit more than the average revenge picture and it presents difficult subject matter in a way that is thoughtful and even provocative.
Episode: #755 (June 30, 2019)