Vigilante 4K restoration BluRay review
From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
When mechanic Eddie Marino (Robert Forster) finds out about his friend Nick's (Fred Williamson) secret vigilante group that two of his colleagues also belong to, he has strong reservations. The group tries to bring justice to local thugs and drug dealers, in crime ridden 1980s New York City, where citizens are fed up with the police's inability to keep their neighborhoods safe. When his son is brutally killed and his wife stabbed and violated after she had confronted some thugs at a local gas station, his life is shattered. The main thug Rico (Willie Colon) can be put on trial for assault due to eye witness accounts, but Eddie's lawyer Mary Fletcher (Carol Lynley) is unable to convince the judge of a proper trial, because Rico's lawyer (Joe Spinell) and the judge are already in local gang henchman Prago's (Don Blakely) pocket. Rico gets off with two years suspended sentence - and Eddie flips out, lounges at the judge. That gets him a few weeks in prison, where he toughens up with the support of Rake (Woody Strode) who saves his ass in there - quite literally. When he's out, he joins Nick's troops and he goes on a violent tour of revenge, killing off those responsible for the murder of his kid and going after those pulling the strings. One by one.
With an impressive cast consisting of Robert Forster (Medium Cool, Jackie Brown) and Fred Williamson (Mean Johnny Barrows, From Dusk Till Dawn) in the lead and some cool supporting performances by Joe Spinell (Maniac), Woody Strode (Winterhawk) and crime busting legend Randy Jurgensen (the inspiration for Cruising and advisor on The French Connection) for example, Vigilante can really shine. It is a brutal, shocking, but not overly exploitative and straight up crime drama that works really well and boasts of quality rather than cheap thrills.
With a great soundtrack, impressive visuals captured all over New York, and a crack FX and editing team, Bill Lustig mastered to show what he can do, shortly after his Maniac. The movie manages to thrill and entertain, to shock and frighten, but it's of course also a controversial film and offers a lot of food for thought. It's not a cheap-o revenge porn film with a construction of a revenge motive and overly comic-like carricatures of law and order, but a more personal story. The problematic issue of taking the law into ones own hands is dealt head on in the first half hour of the film (not to mention the opening monologue, which back then was also part of the promo reel that helped secure the money for the producion). In the 80s, crime was sky high and the police and court systems were unable to handle the crime and drug wave. I guess "just say no" didn't work as intended.
I had my doubts at first, but as I said, this isn't a clumsy dealing with the subject, but a very intense, personal and engaging story that doesn't pile on cliches and rub it in, but sticks to its guns and lets Marino loose, and the movie stops right when his roaring rampage of revenge has concluded, so as not to get into the temptation of drawing out into the exaggerated territory. I liked the performances, especially Williamson, who was refreshingly subtle, but of course Forster and the great set of supporting cast. Vigilante is one hell of a movie, that didn't blow me away but thoroughly convinced me on its merits. And I say that explicitly, because I do usually have my problem with 80s stuff.
The disc - and I have to say I neither know about the previous editions, nor have I ever seen the movie before nor do I have actual 4K equipment other than the disc player (so I am judging this out of years of professional experience of a normal BluRay experience), is a stunner. Once again BU has shown what they are capable of with the vault material that they have for these movies. They keep releasing reference grade material UltraHD versions of their restorations that show: with proper care of the material, meticulous restoration and respect to the source, you can deliver an amazing experience on home video, without the Criterion-style revisionism often seen inflicted on classics.
The transfer offers rich blacks, amazing contrasts, vibrant colors, authentic textures and film grain well preserved. Yes, there are some scenes almost too dark to tell what's happening (I would say it is overall a bit too dark maybe, the HDR compatible image really outdoes itself in delivering on the blacks), and there are also some scnes where the images is not the crispest, but hey, that's considering the age. Still, it looks fascinating. It is, as BU describes it, a "pristine new restoration, scanned in 4K 16-bit from the original 35mm camera negative, with Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos audio".
The disc sounds great, the Atmos tracks offers nice depths, with the music also some surround feeling, but a lot of times the dialogue suffers a bit and plays just second fiddle, in part because of the dominating music. Overall it is an amazing track, but I do have to say I picked the Atmos track instead of the DTS 5.1 track, and let it play on my plain old 5.1 system. I do this because I know the Atmos packs a bit more of a punch, even though I might be unable to hear much of a difference on my system if someone where to test me on it. So other than the Atmos track there's the 5.1 DTS track, and a few other audio options for the international audience, namely Dolby stereo tracks in French, Italian and German! Subtitle options include English SDH, Français, Español and Português
There are a lot of extras on this release. First of all there are three (three!) audio commentaries. The first one is with co-producer/director William Lustig and co-producer Andrew Garroni. The second one is with co-producer/director William Lustig and stars Robert Forster, Fred Williamson and Frank Pesce. The third one is new, and was recorded with film historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson. Of course this is too much already, haha. the ensemble one (the second one) is particularly interesting and entertaining, and if that's not enough trivia for you, the new one knocks it out of the park with interesting context. There are two new interesting featuretes, one called "Blue Collar DEATH WISH" which consists of interviews with Writer Richard Vetere, Star Rutanya Alda, Associate Producer/First A.D./Actor Randy Jurgensen, and others (25min). The other is called "Urban Western" and is an interview with Composer Jay Chattaway (25min). And lastly there are all in all seven different theatrical trailers, four TV Spots, one radio spot, a three minute Promotional Reel plus post and still galleries. There is a nice booklet with an informative essay by Michael Gingold as well.
All in all, a must. While I am not overly blown away by the movie itself (it sort of caught me off guard that it ended when it ended), it is flawlessly executed, sharp as a razor and straight up vigilante genre material. The BluRay is fan-friggin'-tastic and chock full of extras to allow you to dive into the movie. The lenticular cover is a nice touch to round off the package. Highly recommended purchase!
Sebastian, co-founder and admin of the Grindhouse Cinema Database (GCDb). He also started The Spaghetti Western Database (SWDb), The Quentin Tarantino Archives, The Robert Rodriguez Archives, Nischenkino and Furious Cinema. Outside of movies, he works on the intersection of technology and policy. He lives in Berlin, Germany.