Director: Sarah Daggar-Nickson
Cast: Olivia Wilde
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It’s hard to think of a movie that lives up its title more than A Vigilante. The thriller, starring Olivia Wilde, casts her as exactly that, with no flourishes or blockbuster embellishments: a vigilante, pure and simple. It’s a raw, blunt dispatch straight from the hip, and aimed right at your windpipe.
That’s certainly the case for a white-collar male we meet in the film’s opening minutes, who is floored by Sadie (Wilde) with a single blow. She, we gradually learn, is a self-appointed avenger, a righter of wrongs and defender of abuse victims. Think The Equalizer, but without Denzel Washington and with no theatrics or expansive character work: this is what being a vigilante actually looks like, with punching first and everything else later.
Why does Sadie spend her days stalking perpetrators and tormentors? That’s teased out very slowly by Sarah Daggar-Nickson’s timely script, which hops back and forth between before Sadie’s current life and after the point at which she has decided to seek vengeance. And it’s that all-encompassing determination that really gives A Vigilante its punch; action is character and character is action, and Olivia Wilde delivers a barn-storming, physically committed performance. From her dead eyes to her disturbed sleeps in an anonymous motel room, she inhabits the character in the same way that her character inhabits violence.
Is she right to be going around forcing tormentors to give two-thirds of their income to their victim and beating them to a pulp? Is she doing it to get away from her own past or to confront it head-on? Is this therapy or social protest taken to the extreme? Daggar-Nickson doesn’t spend much time looking for answers – even the code left on Sadie’s answering machine by potential clients is cryptic – but that stripped-down, low-key approach is what makes the film tick, giving us a brutally believable window onto someone snapping and turning their fear and anger into a hard-hitting form of activism that certainly makes an impact. The result plays like a companion piece to You Were Never Really Here, and deserves to be just as much of a calling card for Daggar-Nickson and Wilde.