It’s vigilantes again. Is there more to say on the subject? Apparently so. How do they get their start? Do they ever stop? Do we know they’re there? The last one is the most interesting question for me. When there are so many unsolved murders out there, how many are vigilante killings that go down as gang-related or whatever? It’s an unanswerable question.
Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) does Fresh Air-style radio stories in New York City about the city she loves. She’s about to get married to David (Naveen Andrews) and man are they in love. Well, they go out one night and a group of hoodies kill the fiance and put Erica in a coma. When she comes out of it, she has trouble adjusting and gets a gun probably just so she can leave the apartment. She’s at a corner shop, a guy kills his wife (who runs it) and Erica shoots him. That was easy. She gets in another spot of bother and she kills some more. When Det. Mercer (Terrence Howard) gets on the case, she meets him and they become friends. How’s this gunna end?
The back of the DVD says “An exhilarating and supremely crafted thriller.” (Glenn Kenny, Premiere.com). I’m not sure about the exhilaration, but it is absolutely well made by Neil Jordan. He’s inclined to overdo the camera swaying like a skiff off Cape Cod, but it’s a way of conveying a message. Fair enough. There are some clangers in the dialogue department, but that’s Bruce on Roderick Taylor Outside of that, Jordan keeps the camera focused on the energy at hand–and that means Foster’s strong acting.
Jodie Foster is pretty well established as one of the best actresses of our time. True, she’s put in a couple of performances that are virtually indistinguishable, but this isn’t really one of them. There are echoes of the breathless, distressed voice, but it isn’t as ubiquitous as it is in movies like Flightplan (2005) or even The Beaver (2011). In this movie, the character is actually challenged with some heavy stuff and Foster keeps it pretty understated.
Terrence Howard is also well-established. Unlike Foster, I’m inclined to see his critical reputation as a bit overblown. A part of that is his high-priced diva moment with Iron Man 2 (2010), where he was eventually replaced by the rather underestimated Don Cheadle. Putting that to one side, Howard does a fine job in this movie. It’s understated but heartfelt (without being drippy).
In our justifiable murder trilogy, this one is clearly the best in terms of delivering on the main story. We need a sympathetic character, a series of ‘victims,’ and some questionable psychological activity. Tick, tick, and tick. As far as content is concerned, we’ve got ourselves a discussion piece. We’ve even got a character with a job (radio host) that gives us a prompting for our views in the form of vox populi.
Erica is an ordinary person before all of this begins. After she loses her fiance, she finds a stranger inside. At first, she uses violence to protect herself, then to get out of a sticky situation, then to protect someone else who never asked for it, then for someone else’s revenge, and then her own. It’s the trajectory we all suspect in a vigilante.
Erica is a little different from the common conception because it was never for glory (though it is there for the taking). Instead she has the kind of modesty I might like in my preferred vigilante. The kind of modesty that might keep her from the needless acts of violence. It doesn’t. Because it wasn’t modesty, it was something inside that was breaking down causing her to escalate the violence.
Here’s the profile for my most acceptable vigilante. (1) Focused, (2) Restrained, (3) Thorough (as in, justified), (4) Efficient/Effective, (5) Quiet/Modest, (6) Psychologically sound. The acceptable vigilante doesn’t kill if s/he doesn’t have to. Spider-Man used to tie up the bad guys and leave them on the front steps of the police station. If the vigilante doesn’t leave the bad guys with some kind of evidence of the bad acts, I’m not sure that’s particularly useful for long-term deterrence.
Even with this perfect vigilante, is vigilantism ultimately justified?
Basically, the construction is one of all upside and no downside. There is no “official” due process, but this vigilante is thorough and correct and so has some kind of unofficial process. But, because they’re quiet and restrained, nobody knows it has happened to lose faith in the system. So, if you think consequences are the ultimate determinant for moral value, then the vigilante is good to go.
But that’s fantasy. What psychologically sound person becomes a vigilante?