No matter how much it asserts its feminist bona fides, this film will always be considered rightwing—and with some justification. It is highly debatable what Murphy Brown might think of Sadie, an abuse survivor who frequently takes the law into her own hands, but Dirty Harry would approve of the intention (but not always the execution, so to speak). Sadie will deliver some frontier justice to abusive husbands and mothers alike in Sarah Dagger-Nickson’s A Vigilante, which opens this Friday in New York.
Sadie has found her purpose defending the innocent, yet she will never truly be free until she faces up to the husband who terrorized her. Inconveniently, he is missing, but presumably not dead. We will see her intervene on behalf of several clients, while searching for the disappearing deadbeat.
And that is pretty much it. Daggar-Nickson is clearly more interested in Sadie as a character under stress than as an action figure, but her screenplay is still quite stark and spare, especially when it comes to those extravagant plot points. Nevertheless, she throws in some temporal gamesmanship to needlessly confuse the timeline. A Vigilante is not You Were Never Really Here, but it is surprisingly close, stylistically.
Regardless, Olivia Wilde does some of her best work probably ever as Sadie. She de-glams and goes largely non-verbal throughout her viscerally intense performance. In fact, only Tonye Patano manages not to whither next to her as Sadie’s support group leader. Problematically, that is especially true of Morgan Spector, who turns out to ne a big nothing as her husband.
Daggar-Nickson walks an exasperatingly fine line. Clearly, she refuses to indulge in the baser, cathartic impulses of traditional grindhouse revenge movies. As one might expect, by standing in the middle and refusing to make a choice, she still sets a tone for the film. Thanks to Wilde, it isn’t bad, but it should have much more visceral pop to it. It is not terrible, but it is definitely a missed opportunity.
Frustratingly, it is not recommended for those who will be most interested in a film titled, A Vigilante. For Wilde’s fans primarily, it opens this Friday (3/29) in New York, at the Cinema Village.