I hadn’t heard much about this film until it popped up on my Suggested List on Amazon Prime. After doing a bit of research (mainly watching the TRAILER), I was in.
I mean, it looked like Taken, but with Olivia Wilde – what’s not to like? I love John Wick, Atomic Blonde (especially THE STAIRWAY FIGHT) and Nicole Kidman’s Destroyer looks awesome too, so this was a no-brainer for me.
With a project like this, I feel as if, from a scripting perspective, what you really need to focus on is something Blake Snyder calls “The Promise of the Premise” – which is exactly what it sounds like: Deliver What You Promised Your Audience!
For example, in Taken, all I wanted to see was Liam Neeson defeat the bad guys and get his daughter back. The film did it in badass style, which is why it’s a classic (and Liam Neeson’s performance – duh) but it was effective because it delivered exactly what it told us it was going to: a father with a particular set of skills hunts down the men who kidnapped his estranged daughter and frees her (while leaving a mountain of bodies in his wake).
In the same way, the recent Netflix film The Highwaymen gave us a fairly straightforward story about two retired Texas Rangers who joined the hunt for Bonnie and Clyde during their violent rampage. Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson are great as two men who are much too old for this shit and yet are the only two who can bring down the despicable duo. The film knows exactly what it is and gives you exactly what it needs to so that you are invested in the characters, the story and the inevitable, bloody outcome.
That said, obviously the rest is important: the characters must be unique and have their own voices, the plot must be coherent (at least), and the dialogue should pop off the page, but you need to be sure that your set-pieces stand out and that your story delivers on expectations.
What I wanted to see when I turned on A Vigilante was just that – Olivia Wilde hunting down some bad guys and serving her own, bloody brand of justice.
So, did the film deliver?
We start with a voice over: a call from a woman who has an abusive husband and is requesting that he be taken out – just not when her children are around.
– It was an effective way to set the tone and to get us off and running quickly.
The action is quick and brutal – reminds me of the action in Taken – this is not a John Wick action scene where everything is beautifully choreographed, but a grim and bloody portrait of violence.
Like James Mangold said in his Logan Script:
Basically, if you’re on the make for a hyper choreographed, gravity defying, city-block destroying, CGI fuckathon, this ain’t your movie.
– That quote describes the action in this film as well.
I like the concept here: A dark character study of the silent protector who defends women who have been abused and/or cannot defend themselves.
I also think the way that they show that Olivia Wilde’s character (Saide, according to IMDB) has severe PTSD and panic attacks helps to define who she is and gives the character a real, tangible weakness — she is not immortal (as John Wick or Bryan Mills essentially were/are), but a human with flaws and weaknesses.
The scenes of the group of abused women talking about what they have experienced was hard to watch, but very effective.
Also interesting that this was written and directed by a female filmmaker – Sarah Daggar-Nickson – which I feel was important, tackling this subject matter from a female’s perspective.
I liked the fact that Olivia Wilde had a whole Mission Impossible-style wardrobe that she used to change her appearance everywhere she went.
The film provided a good plot point – Olivia Wilde saves two young boys from an abusive, negligent mother. It was nice, as it showed her to be a champion for all victims in all situations.
– Though I do feel as if the two boys she saved would have been an interesting catalyst – she has to take them with her even though some bad people are coming after her/the boys.
— It also would have been nice thematically as she could not protect and save her own son, but maybe she can save these two boys.
The film kind of reminds me of You Were Never Really Here (which I know the Captain didn’t like, but it made my Best of 2018 List) in that it is more of a dark cerebral character piece than a straight action film.
Olivia Wilde really carries this film – she is onscreen 99% of the time and the film lives and dies on her performance – luckily, she really commits and nails the role.
I do kind of wish this film had provided some sort of counter to Olivia Wilde’s methods – showing that maybe violence wasn’t the answer (as they say, violence only begets more violence) or that she wasn’t necessarily right in her actions or methods. Maybe just that she didn’t help these women as much as she thought she did.
– Not at all to say anything negative about the message the film is trying to get across – needing to escape the cycle of abuse and the horrors of domestic abuse – but I just feel as if there were a couple of scenes that made Olivia Wilde’s Sadie question herself or her methods would have helped the story and raised the film to a higher level. Even Batman is frequently challenged over his methods and rules, which raises interesting philosophical questions and provides a deeper understanding of the character.
— This could have made the film and the film’s message even more impactful and would have left the audience thinking and questioning everything they had seen and may have led to some interesting discussions about the themes and the story.
I also wish this film had a clear through-line – in terms of one mission, one goal that Olivia Wilde’s character set out to achieve or was working towards through most of the film.
– As it stands, the narrative is less-focused and things just seem to happen without a specific purpose or eventual goal in mind. Though we do get a showdown towards the end with *SPOILERS* her ex-husband *SPOILERS*, it didn’t feel so much built to as it felt like “Oh, we’re an hour into the film, now this is going to happen.”
I also didn’t think that we needed to spend so much time in flashbacks – one or two quick ones which give us an idea of what set her on this path and/or her backstory would have been enough and made the story flow much more smoothly.
Since there was not a lot really driving our story for the first hour or so, some of the slower moments made me lose focus.
I didn’t really like the reveal that her ex-husband was still alive – and I guess had been hiding out in the woods since he attacked her? That’s a long time to live alone with no food, no water, no shelter and no equipment, but I guess he managed.
– It just felt like a big stretch and was unearned. If this was set up better – or we were given more about her hunt for her ex, then it would have felt much more smooth and I could have gotten on board.
Also, the bad guy does the typical bad guy thing of not killing the hero, but instead gloating and keeping her tied up. She very clearly wants to kill him and has spent years hunting him, so when you get the drop on her why would you leave her alive and alone in your cabin?
In addition to this, why she doesn’t just kill him when she gets the drop on him is illogical too. Here is a man who abused her for years, killed her son, left her bleeding and alone and then kidnapped her with the promise to hurt her some more and she doesn’t slice his throat the second she could?
– I understand what the film is talking about in terms of how difficult it can be for some victims of abuse to leave their tormentors, but this woman has been searching for and planning to kill this man for years and years and when she gets the chance… she hesitates?
On that last point, if we are making the ex-husband the “Big Bad” as it were, we really needed to know a little more about him and get some idea of what a monster he is and what it is that is driving him.
– We do get to see Sadie’s scars and hear her story, but I never got a sense of who this guy was other than just the personification of evil which I feel really did more to hurt the film than to help it.
I don’t really agree with the choice to have the final fight/confrontation happen off-screen. This is what everything has been leading to and we, as the audience, don’t even get to experience that catharsis of Sadie taking down her monster.
*SPOILERS ARE FINISHED*
STREAM IT – When it comes to Netflix or Amazon Prime, take an hour and half to watch this and then talk with your friends and family about some of the themes and ideas it explored. I can’t give this the full RENT IT recommendation because, though it was very well shot and Olivia Wilde is great – the narrative is unfocused and it took too long to follow a coherent narrative path. Do watch it if you liked the atmospheric and independent style that You Were Never Really Here had, though, as this film reminded me a lot of that one and I really loved that piece.
The film is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime currently.
But what did you think? Have you seen A Vigilante? Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments!
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