Story: In New York City, a crime wave like never before has washed over the metropolis and the streets are filled with violence and chaos. The police have not only given up on trying to solve most cases, they’ve all but given up on responding to crimes in progress, even violent ones. Under siege in their neighborhoods, the citizens have struggled to keep pushing forward, which has driven some to extremes. Nick (Fred Williamson) is fed up with the rampant crime and has taken a stand, vowing to do what the police won’t. He has found some like minded colleagues to assist him with his vigilante style answer to the criminals, but he is always on the lookout for others who have had enough and want to fight back. His coworker Eddie (Robert Forster) always listens to his call for street justice, but he hasn’t gone along with the plan. But when his own child is murdered and his wife assaulted, Eddie finds himself feeling more than helpless, with nowhere to turn. Of course he wants to see justice done for his loved ones, but after watches the guilty parties walk out of court with no punishment, he reaches his breaking point. But can Eddie settle the score with the thugs who shattered his life and even if so, will it bring him closure?
Entertainment Value: I’ve seen Vigilante described as a “blue collar Death Wish” and that is a good assessment, as the two do share similar concepts. But the original Death Wish was about the upper class being terrorized by the street criminals, whereas Vigilante is more working class, which shifts the lens of the social atmosphere. I tend to like these street justice pictures this one is no exception, it is well made and while not as introspective as Death Wish, it reflects the environment of the characters. Paul Kersey could have left the dangerous city in Death Wish, but Eddie and Nick have nowhere to run to, an issue that Nick brings up several times. There is also more of an emphasis on action in Vigilante, which ramps up the pace and provides more of an exploitation vibe, much like the Death Wish sequels would do for that series. Most of the action is centered on either fist fights or shootouts, both of which are plentiful here and fun to watch. I wouldn’t call the action set pieces epic or innovative, but there’s a grittiness to the violence, which again helps give Vigilante a grindhouse texture. The dialogue is well written and the characters are memorable, while also realistic and believable in the narrative’s world. I would think this would appeal to not just action/crime fans, but also those who appreciate exploitation elements blended in. I think Vigilante remains a rock solid slice of action grindhouse cinema, earning a high recommendation.
I always love to see Fred Williamson as part of an ensemble and in Vigilante, his character is right in his wheelhouse, not too far removed from some of his blaxploitation roles. Williamson isn’t the lead here, but he has a substantial part to play and drives the secondary narrative. In other words, he has a good amount of screen time, but he isn’t the main focus of Vigilante’s plot. The role suits Williamson, letting him be larger than life and unleash his hard ass approach to action. He winds up stealing the show at times, but he is surrounded by impressive performers, so he has to share the spotlight in Vigilante. Robert Forster has the lead and plays it to perfection, a realistic blue collar family man pushed to the brink. Forster keeps the character reigned in, which helps the grittiness of the picture, as he doesn’t go over the top outside of some specific moments. He and Williamson work together smoothly and their shared scenes are some of the highlights here, as far as acting performances. The cast also includes Woody Strode, Joe Spinell, Carol Lynley, Richard Bright, and Willie Colon.
The Disc: Blue Underground has released Vigilante with a new 4k scan and restoration, so the movie looks quite good in ultra high definition. The movie has gritty production values and that means grain and that grittiness I keep talking about, but that doesn’t mean the visuals can’t shine. The print looks good and while there is some softness at times, the visuals remain faithful to the source material. I can’t imagine fans ever expected Vigilante to look this good, so the restoration work was a smash success. The extras for this 4k edition include archival audio commentaries from director William Lustig and varied cast & crew members, as well as a new audio commentary track from two film historians. I tend to prefer audio commentaries from first hand sources, so I appreciated the archival tracks more. You can also check out a host of new interviews with cast & crew, tv spots, a radio ad, a promotional reel, posters & stills, and some of the film’s theatrical trailers.