Released by: Blue Underground Released on: 9/21/10 Director: William Lustig Cast: Robert Forster, Fred Williamson, Joe Spinell, Richard Bright, Don Blakely, Joseph Carberry, Willie Colon, Woody Strode, Carol Lynley, Rutanya Alda, Steve James Year: 1983
William Lustig’s second mainstream feature film, shot a few years after the success of Maniac (and more than a few years after his two XXX films under the alias Billy Bagg – The Violation Of Claudie and Hot Honey) follows a blue collar worked named Eddie Marine (Robert Forster in a role originally intended for Tony Musante) who works in Queens, New York where crime seems rampant. When his wife (Rutanya Alda) speaks up against a gang’s assault on a gas station attendant she is later assaulted while Eddie is at work. Their young son is murdered and she’s left fighting for her life in the hospital. When the cops (lead by Steve James) bring in the culprit, Eddie understandably speaks up at the sentencing, despite the best efforts of his attorney (Carol Lynley). Thanks to the work of a sleazy lawyer (Joe Spinell), the judge (Vincent Beck) lets him off and winds up giving Eddie a nice two month stint in the slammer where he’s almost raped but for the intervention of a kindly older prisoner (Woody Strode).
This chain of events leads Eddie to talk to his friends, Nick (Fred Williamson), Quinn (Henry Judd Baker) and Burke (Richard Bright) about their vigilante activities. Having long since grown tired of the rampant crime in their neighborhood, Nick and his pals have been cruising the streets and taking the law into their own hands. Having now found himself a victim of the broken legal system, Eddie decides that their way is the only one that will work and so he takes up arms against those who murdered his son and sets out to exact the justice he knows he deserves.
Shot on location throughout the industrial parts of Queens and Brooklyn, Vigilante does a great job of capturing the grit and grime of early eighties New York City and using it to its full advantage. Lustig (who has a brief cameo in the film – watch for him exiting the elevator in the court room) has made a film that puts you smack dab in the middle of a world where criminals are all too happy to prey on the innocent, where lawyers are on the take, where judges don’t care about justice and where a sorely understaffed and overworked police department can only do so much. By doing all of this, the film gives Eddie Romero every reason to want to join up with Nick and do something about the situation, because it forces us to realize that if they don’t do anything about it, nobody else will and that if that is the case the problem will only continue to get worse. The film makes no qualms about its political leanings, rallying behind its message that bullets solve problems better than lawyers do. It’s only too happy to exploit the popularity of the vigilante/revenge genre popular in the day it was made thanks to Death Wish and the various knock-offs it inspired.
Performance wise, Forster is great in the lead. He’s completely sympathetic and very believable in his part and you wind up really feeling for him, particularly once he tries to get justice through the courts only to wind up in prison himself. Williamson plays his usual cocky, tough guy self and he does it well. His commanding screen presence makes his scenes a lot of fun and you couldn’t cast a better player than he to ‘take no shit.’ A fun supporting performance from the eternally sleazy Spinell as the defense attorney is memorable and solid turns from both Henry Judd Baker (he of Short Eyes fame) and Richard Bright (of The Godfather II) as Nick’s henchmen round out the cast nicely.
Tightly paced, appropriately violent and full of early eighties atmosphere, Vigilante isn’t the deepest picture ever made but it sure is well cast and plenty entertaining. A great cast of actors really help this one rise above the crop of Death Wish imitations and stand on its own two feet, while Lustig’s knack for set pieces and gritty atmosphere ensure that the movie looks good and flows really well.
Blue Underground debuts Vigilante on Blu-ray in a great AVC encoded 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen 1080p high definition presentation that improves on previous DVD releases in every way you’d want it to. Detail and texture are far more pronounced and there are no problems with heavy print damage, edge enhancement or compression artifacts. The image is clean, stable and well authored and the color reproduction looks nice and natural, never oversaturated or too pumped up. Black levels are strong and shadow detail remains pretty decent throughout, and all the dirt, litter and grit of the inner city locations shine through.
Blue Underground offers up audio options in English language DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio, English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and Dolby Digital Mono, French language Dolby Digital Mono, German language Dolby Digital Mono and Italian language Dolby Digital Mono with subtitles provided in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish.
The DTS-HD track, not surprisingly, comes out the winner here with much more punch and audible detail. The clarity is improved and the levels are well balanced and Jay Chattaway’s synth-heavy score comes through in all its early eighties glory quite well. Bass response won’t floor you but it’s there when the film calls for it and there are no problems with hiss or distortion to complain about.
Blue Underground have provided a commentary track with Lustig in which he is joined by Williamson, Forster and Frank Pece, and a second track in which he teams up with co-producer Anthony W. Garroni. Both tracks are pretty interesting, as they touch on Lustig’s American and Italian influences in regards to the inspiration for this picture as well as the cast, the location shooting, the stunts and more. Aside from that, look for four different trailers for the feature, a promo spot meant to generate funding interest at Cannes featuring Williamson, a radio spot, a few TV spots, a still gallery, menus and chapter stops.
The Final Word:
Gritty, fast paced, exciting and really well acted from a terrific cast, Vigilante is a great slice of early eighties action movie fun and Blue Underground’s Blu-ray debut continues their trend of terrific high definition transfers making this a great package for fans of the film.
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