When a man is pushed too far by the street punks that destroyed his family and the system that failed him, Robert Forster delivers his own brand of justice in Vigilante. William Lustig's gritty urban thriller hits similar notes to another vengeance-fueled franchise, but a meditative approach elevates this 1982 thriller beyond being a cheap exploitation rehash of something we've already seen. Blue Underground revisits this gem after ten years giving the film an impressive and well-deserved 4K transfer with Dolby Vision HDR and an engaging Atmos audio mix to match. As with every Blue Underground 4K release thus far - it's pristine and sets the benchmark for the format. Highly Recommended
Things ain't too good on the streets. Crime is rampant. The police are powerless to stop it - or they've become so apathetic they shirk their end of the bargain. And when the cops do their jobs, the lawyers and judges are so corrupt they just as bad as the punks. When one simple man's (Robert Forster) life is destroyed with his son murdered and his wife in the hospital, he will become judge, jury, and if necessary executioner for those he deems responsible.
When you're watching Robert Forster's Eddie Marino in Vigilante it's almost impossible not to think of Charles Bronson's Paul Kersey in Death Wish - and the subsequent never-ending sequels. Both films tread a similar line of honest men who believe in the system. But when the system fails them, they take the law into their own hands and dispense their own brands of justice. Within that concept, the similarities between the two films end. Where Bronson's first film is a man scarred by crime and willing to execute any kind of lawbreaker he judges guilty, Forster is laser-focused on revenge. He has specific targets in mind and you at least hope that when his hit list is done, he's done too. We're not left with that chilling final image of Bronson. Or at least we hope we're not - it all depends on how you look at it.
I discovered Vigilante because of Jackie Brown. Other than Tarantino's third film and The Black Hole, I didn't really have much experience with Forster growing up. It was because of a local independent rental shop that I discovered Vigilante. I asked the guy behind the counter what Robert Forster movies he could recommend for me and this one was at the top of the list. "It's like Death Wish only better" was what he said. Now I've had a life-long love for Death Wish and its increasingly goofy-ass sequels. The original is a classic and when I first saw it was one of the most shocking things I'd ever seen in an action movie. So that video store jockey laid down some fight'n words - but in many ways he was right.
While I do my best to not compare the two films as they are their own beasts, I would stand by the argument that Vigilante is the more meditative and thoughtful of the two. Rather than watching Eddie slip into bullet-fueled vengeance on the scum of New York, we watch him grapple with the rage and his belief in law and order. His friend Nick played by the always excellent Fred Williamson has already gone over the edge. Knowing he's inches away from being like Nick and his pals at the factory who have been pushed too far, Eddie has to hold onto that last thread of humanity until there's nothing.
William Lustig crashed onto the scene with Maniac and Vigilante is the perfect antithesis follow-up. Where Maniac asks you to sympathize with a deranged madman who is trying to stop killing, this time we're asked to sympathize with an honest man driven to kill. While this film isn't as shocking as Maniac - or as graphic, for that matter - it's still got plenty of grit and punch to it. It also has Joe Spinell as the quintessential slimeball lawyer you love to hate. Sadly because of his escalating substance abuse issues his scenes were apparently cut down drastically because he'd fail to arrive on set, or if he did he wasn't in any condition to shoot. But, in the few scenes he has, he kills it.
I've only seen this film a handful of times, but it's always a great one to revisit. At a lean 89-minutes, nothing is wasted. We get an appropriate amount of character development before moving headlong into the plot. As the knocks against Eddie mount, we're in full with him and his decision to take things to the next lethal level. It gets you asking what "appropriate justice" is and you're right there with him. When he starts to take things farther, you wonder how far is too far leaving you with a hell of an ending note.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Blue Underground returns to another of their deep catalog titles that haven't seen much love in recent years to give a gem the care and attention it deserves with Vigilante in a new 2-Disc 4K UHD Blu-ray + Blu-ray set. The two discs are housed in Blue Underground's usual two-disc cases they've been using for all of their recent remaster special editions and 4K titles with alternate insert artwork and a lenticular slipcover. Also included is a booklet containing photos, poster images, and the essay "Doing Justice to Vigilante" by Michael Gingold which's another absolute must-read. The disc loads to an animated main menu with traditional navigation options.
As has been Blue Underground's standing since they dropped Zombie to 4K UHD Blu-ray, Vigilante is another picture-perfect stunner to add to the 4K UHD Blu-ray Collection. The new 4K transfer with Dolby Vision HDR is simply stunning that a nearly 40-year-old low budget thriller could look this good. Right from the first moment Fred Williamson emerges from the dark shadows and starts addressing the audience, this image showcases impressive details, a strong healthy and natural grain structure, beautiful colors, with some gorgeous deep inky black levels. The image holds up to that early high bar throughout the rest of the film. When Eddie is sent to prison, all of the grit, grime, and filth of the prison is visible. Throughout facial features look terrific while costuming and production design gets to shine.
The Dolby Vision HDR pass really is a welcome upgrade - offering many clear enhancements over the remastered 1080p Blu-ray that's included with this set (more on that in a bit). This is an often drab film. Even for the early 80s, it's still a grim dour-looking film, but colors pop when they need to. Blue prison uniforms pop - blood splatters also get some primary kick. Again the black levels are picture-perfect giving plenty of shadow separation for a nicely three-dimensional vibe. The new restoration leaves the image in immaculate shape without any sign of speckling or scratches. 5/5
And true to form the newly remastered 1080p Blu-ray sourced from the same restoration is stunning in its own ways. The image has plenty of robust details with a healthy grain structure. However, the lack of HDR is immediately appreciable. Black levels tilt a bit brown/green in places and blues have a little habit of bleeding (for lack of a better term) with other colors so primaries don't quite pop nearly as crisp or as cleanly as the 4K disc - but that's to be expected a bit honestly. That Dolby Vision transfer is immaculate doing everything that it should do for image quality. Otherwise, this is a pretty terrific disc. The last time I looked at the 2010 disc was about three years ago in Chicago - I never owned it but watched it when I clerked at Odd Obsession video and was impressed with that disc. Going from memory this is an obvious improvement - especially for the condition of the transfer. So, if you're not 4K UHD ready, this set is still worth grabbing for the 1080p disc alone. 4.5/5
Another thing I love about Blue Underground releases is the audio mixes. Rather than only giving fans one mix to work with, they give you the works. Depending on how you're setup or how you prefer to enjoy the film, you have options - and that's true for Vigilante. On top of an excellent new Dolby Atmos mix, we're treated to an effective DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, and if you're someone who experienced this film in theaters or on tape - there's an engaging DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix. Usually in these cases, I err on the side of the original presentation and would favor the 2.0 track because new surrounds from older mixes tend to sound overworked, but that's never been the case with an Atmos mix from Blue Underground and this one is a stellar example of how to add height and surround dimension to a relatively restrained, straightforward mix without it sounding overworked.
I was really impressed with the use of the height channels for this mix. Any building or room with an echo, the courtroom, the prison, the machine shop - there's an appreciable overhead spacial quality along those vertical channels that mixes well with the sides and rears. Scenes like when Spinell's character is getting bought off in the grimy courthouse bathroom has an appreciable height element. The big final car chase sequence was another terrific action-packed sequence where front/center, height, side, and rear channels are all firing. Dialog is clean and clear through every mix and that badass Jay Chattaway score sounds terrific. I really wish this score was available for collectors. With that, if you're not Atmos ready and don't want to go through the Dolby TrueHD 7.1 default, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix offers a dynamic surround mix. But if you're limited in options or have an older generation soundbar setup, the 2.0 mix is great too. It's dealer's choice, you can't go wrong.
True to form, Blue Underground has assembled a terrific assortment of new and archival bonus features to pick through. Best of all, all of the bonus features are found on the 4K disc in addition to the 1080p Blu-ray disc so there's no need to flip between discs to get the full experience. Because I never owned the 2010 disc or had this movie on DVD for that matter, all of it was new to me and pretty awesome material. You get three excellent audio commentaries, new interviews with various cast and crew; on top of the great essay from Michael Gingold. It's packed! The audio commentaries are essential lists. My favorite is the William Lustig, Robert Forster, Fred Williamson, and Fran Pesce commentary - it's a great engaging listen. The new commentary with Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson is another fast-paced barrage of trivia where you need a notebook handy for all of the references - they never fail to throw off a film title I've never heard of and feel the need to seek out.
While it's very similar to other entries in the gritty vengeance genre, Vigilante stands on its own feet. It covers some of the same ground as Death Wish, but it explores the themes in a different and equally satisfying direction. Making this one perhaps a superior film is that it's not watered down by increasingly ridiculous sequels. It's a one and done affair that leaves you with some tough questions about the direction of our anti-hero.
Blue Underground continues their streak for exceptional 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release with another perfect entry. Sourced from a new 4K restoration with a Dolby Vision HDR transfer, this film hardly looks its 38 year age. Toss in an excellent Atmos audio mix (along with two other legacy tracks), with a terrific assortment of bonus features and you have another solid 4K release that's worth every penny. If you're a fan of this movie eager to upgrade from the old 2010 disc, this is Highly Recommended.