Truckin Thru Time
A Vigilante (2019): 5 out of 10: A Vigilante is so close to excellent. There is much to recommend in this film. Unfortunately, writer/director Sarah Daggar-Nickson makes some stylistic and story choices that torpedo the whole affair.
The Good: The Vigilante stars Olivia Wilde as an abused wife who goes to group therapy and, in conversations with other abused women, finds the strength to not just overcome her own abuse but to rescue others still in abusive relationships. Outside of a few moments of primal screaming that are a little overdone Olivia Wilde is excellent.
Also excellent are the group therapy sessions which are heartbreaking. If you told me they just filmed real abuse victims, I would totally believe you. They provide an excellent emotional anchor to the film while being informative and motivating to our protagonist.
Before I start beating up on this movie. (It’s not my fault. It’s the movie fault. It made me do it.)I do want to point out a tiny scene that filled me with surprise and delight. There is a nice little touch at the beginning where Olivia is listening to either a podcast or YouTube video about applying makeup and disguises as she gets ready. I like that. YouTube videos and podcasts are often the background noise in my household (currently the wife is on the Keto videos again and what people wore in the 18th century) and it is a real trend that Hollywood and the “media in general” seems unaware of. (This is par for the course as anyone who has been stuck in a dentist’s waiting room watching the sixth hour of the Today Show can testify. When the hosts announce everyone is talking about it or everyone is doing it. “It” is usually something that you have never heard of or no one you know has done since the nineties. But that is a rant for another review.)
The Bad: There must be a film-making class where they teach you that the colors, music, and pacing of the film needs to match the mood of the piece. Writer/director Sarah Daggar-Nickson took this to heart as the colors are muted, the music by composing team Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaan’s sounds like it could be in Schindler’s List, and there are endless shots of trees without leaves and decrepit landscapes. This combined with a slow pace often creatives that atmosphere where one drifts off during the movie or maybe checks their phone for a bit while watching.
Compounding this issue is another film-making class that Sarah Daggar-Nickson apparently took that teaches never set up a scene and never show the conclusion. Only show the middle of any scene and let the audience fill in the gaps.
This turns out worse for the audience than it sounds. By not setting up the scene you do not understand who any of these people are except Olivia Wilde. Now we know Olivia Wilde is a vigilante righting wrongs and helping the helpless so the big bad (a man in all cases but one) is the guy who is getting a whooping and the person with the black eye is our rescuee. With no introduction, it takes the viewer a minute or two to get oriented. Alas, since the movie also skips the conclusion, we never see the whooping. (Which honestly is a serious demerit for a vigilante woman getting revenge film. Even the most even-keeled viewer came on board to see a buff Olivia Wilde kick some middle-aged abuser ass) and by the time we are oriented the scene is over.
Compounding that issue is the director’s propensity to skip around in time. (Yes, I can feel you pulling your hair out.) Now a good movie can pull off a time jump even a hidden one. (Nicole Kidman’s recent film Destroyer is an excellent example of this). A Vigilante indicates to the audience what time sequence we are in through Olivia Wilde’s hairstyle and the context of the scene. This does not work as planned.
Since the scenes have no setup, being substituted by endless shots of leafless trees, we can now add “when does this take place?” to the already “who are these people?” and “what is happening?” questions when a new scene starts. (This is assuming you realize that the time jumps even happen in the movie at all. They are easy to miss.)
Olivia Wilde is a vigilante disguising her appearance. As mentioned above, she listens to podcasts about make-up effects to disguise one’s self. She also wears a different wig when she goes out on a “job”. So if you are using hairstyle to show where we are in the story and the character changes her wigs every time she goes to a new location. Well, you can see how this truck went off the highway.
The Ugly: There are two scenes that honestly shouldn’t be in the movie. The first is a collection of scenes (honestly about a quarter of the running time) where Olivia confronts her abusive husband. For a movie that refuses to show Olivia kick abuser ass, it has no problem tying her to a chair and let her get tortured. Where this takes place in the timeline is bluntly a mystery. It is gratuitous, out of character, and provides us with no information we didn’t already have.
As bad as that collection of scenes is, it pales to the out of left field attempted rape scene. Olivia walks into a seedy dive bar. (No reason mind you, no idea where the bar is, or why she is there. Also unclear when in the timeline this scene takes place.) She orders a house whiskey, takes two sips, and then walks out to the well-lit parking lot where all the bar patrons follow her and attempt to rape her like it was a zombie movie or something.
You know that scene in a Death Wish movie where Charles Bronson pretends to be drunk or is carrying groceries hoping some punk kid will attempt to mug him. And one invariably does, and he pulls out his hand cannon and blows him away. It is like that, except Death Wish is a cartoon and this is supposed to be a serious movie.
In conclusion: Olivia Wilde is hamstrung by a script you could drive a truck through, and the trucks won’t stop coming. Combined with a muted palette and an aversion to anything the audience might find entertaining and you have a bit of a slog with some very good bits scattered within.