Written and directed by Aash Aaron, Vigilante is a low budget indy action-thriller that the cover art would have you believe is in the tradition of exploitative greats like The Exterminator or, maybe, Williams Lustig's Vigilante. This low budget Australian indy film, however, is a bit more of a slow burn picture, though that's not to say it isn't without some fun action set pieces.
The film follows a wealthy businessman named Luke (Robert Diaz) who, along with his fiancé, is brutally attacked. During the ordeal, his fiancé is raped and when the thugs - Jack (Ozzie Devrish), Mako (Christian Radford) and the ringleader, Alex (Kazuya Wright) - have had their way with her, they murder her in cold blood. Understandably pissed off, Like decides use every dollar at his disposal to train himself in the martial arts and in various combat techniques so that he can head out into the city and take out the trash, so to speak. While on his mission of vengeance, Luke soon finds out that the very same men who attacked him and killed the woman he loved are connected to a powerful crime syndicate with heavy duty connections to the police department. As such, the cops under criminal control are out to stop Luke before he can find and exact his revenge on the men that he's looking for.
Vigilante isn't bad for a low budget revenge movie but it's certainly not a film without flaws. Luke is basically a poor man's Batman, a rich and affluent man who goes through the training he needs to fight crime outside the law, and the influence of Bob Kane's iconic caped crusader is undeniable. The problem is that Luke's crime fighter lacks the charisma or interest level that makes Batman work. The film goes for an edgier, darker and nastier tone, a more down to earth and far less superhero centric take, but Luke just isn't interesting enough to really latch on to as a lead. Robert Diaz's acting isn't really going to help things so much either, as it's flat and, well, kind of dull. He lacks the charisma of a Robert Forster or a Charles Bronson and you just don't really buy him as a highly skilled fighter.
On top of that, the film suffers from some pretty goofy moments. The opening scene in which Luke finds himself surrounded by a giant V made out of flames will have you groaning before the movie even starts, and logic gaps, such as Luke's ability to learn his fighting skills so remarkably quickly could have you questioning things you're supposed to take for granted. The film isn't quite salacious enough to cover up for that either, with most of the violence inferred and taking place off screen rather than in your face the way its predecessors would have done it.
What makes the movie worth watching are the three main villains. Each actor brings some genuine personality to the movie and is good enough in his respective part that you want to learn more about these guys. Alex's paternal issues make him more interesting than your average psychotic thug and his interactions, at times almost codependent it would seem, with the other two are quite interesting and entertaining if not always one hundred percent believable. Adding to the film's enjoyment factor is the hand to hand combat and fight scenes. Diaz is again the weak point here, but Devrish, Radford and Wright are all quite impressive and imposing. Would Diaz's character be able to take them in a fight outside of the movie? Not on your life, these guys look like they'd mop the floor with the guy but in the context of the story and the revenge motif that Aash Aaron has built we just kind of accept that the good guy is going to save the day and that's that.
The film looks to have been shot with a low budget on digital video and so there are times where this shows through in terms of production value and what's on screen ( budgetary restraints could be why the rape/murder that sets Luke off takes place off camera?) as well as with the movie's canned sounding score. But Vigilante is watchable enough thanks to its trio of antagonists and shows quite a bit of promise for its writer/director.
Vigilante appears in 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen on this DVD. Compression artifacts are quite common in the darker scenes while colors look a bit oversaturated and smeary. Detail isn't particularly impressive either. On top of that the picture is interlaced. The transfer is watchable, but it's far from impressive. Had it not been as blotchy as it looks here, it would have fared better, however. There aren't any problems with print damage, dirt or debris, but there are some authoring issues that prevent the disc from scoring higher in this department.
The DVD contains only a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track with optional subtitles available in English and Spanish. No alternate language dubs are included. There are times where the dialogue is a bit muddled but for the most part the sound here is okay. Those who have trouble with Australian accents might be left scratching their heads in spots but the levels are well balanced and there are no problems with hiss or distortion to note.
Aside from a menu screen that and chapter selection, the disc includes some cast biographies and a few trailers for four completely unrelated DVD releases..
Vigilante is worth seeing, particularly if you're a fan of low budget action/revenge movies. The villains are definitely the more interesting aspect of the film and they're responsible for the vast majority of the entertainment value that the film offers. MPI's presentation isn't so hot, and it's almost barebones, but this is an alright time killer. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.