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SXSW Review: Olivia Wilde Plays a Domestic Abuse Survivor Turned 'A Vigilante'

By Dustin Rowles | Film | March 12, 2018 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | March 12, 2018 |


A Vigilante, from writer/director Sarah Daggar-Nickson, is a hard movie to sit through, and I don’t mean because of its subject material (although that, too). I mean, it’s a 90-minute film that feels substantially longer, and not just because it is often tedious (although, that too): I mean that A Vigilante takes great pains to establish tone, to set the mood, and to wordlessly give viewers a glimpse into the life of Olivia Wilde’s character, Sadie. She boxes. She does sit-ups in her hotel room. She launders clothes in the shower. She agonizes. She grieves. She contemplates, ruminates, and watches TV.

Olivia Wilde turns in a fantastic performance and the many lengthy sequences are not without purpose — Sadie is an abuse survivor who lost her son to a violent husband, and we’re meant to clearly understand her motivations — but they can also wear on a moviegoers’ patience, especially in a revenge thriller that often lacks in momentum. We see Sadie as determined; we see her as angry; and we see her as sad; but we might like to see her exacting a little more revenge.

In A Vigiliante, Wilde’s Sadie is a vigilante with a very specific target: Domestic Abusers. When she gets wind of a domestic violence situation from her whisper network of survivors, she takes action. She inflicts violence upon the abusers and makes them leave, often forcing them to agree to settlements that heavily favor the wives. But interestingly, Sarah Daggar-Nickson is mostly restrained when it comes to the violence Sadie inflicts — it’s largely offscreen. The most violent sequences are reserved for those committed by Sadie’s husband upon her, and they are literally bone crunching.

And maybe it’s the way we’ve been conditioned by other movies, or maybe it’s because I really like a good action sequence, or maybe it’s because I just really enjoy watching bad men get pummelled, but I wanted to see every punch and kick and blow to the body, and Daggar-Nickson deprives us of that. I think I understand why the director chose to take the approach she did: It’s a movie about domestic violence, and she didn’t want to glorify violence, even when it is inflicted for the greater good. But it’s also a movie about a vigilante, and I’d have appreciated more of the vigilantism and less of the contemplation.

That said, I like the subject material, and I like the idea of a battered spouse transforming herself into something of a superhero for abuse victims. I just wish A Vigilante had been less formless, more engaging, and packed a bigger punch. It is an action drama that is heavy on the internal drama of its main character and too light on the action, and while Wilde is terrific, there’s not enough meat in the script to sustain moviegoers’ interests for its full runtime.

A Vigilante screened at the 2018 SXSW Conference. It does not yet have a release date.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.