While not the best revenge film from the 80s, Vigilante is still somewhat unique, taking the footprint from films like Mad Max but turning the story into more of a western but with a very urban setting. It is also closer in style to Italian crime films. While this combination is definitely something very atypical, and it might even sound strange, it works.New York City is turning for the worst. The crime rate keeps climbing, and law enforcement just does not have the resources to keep up with the gangs and criminals that keep turning up. For every cop there seems to be 10 gang members who think the city belongs to them. It also does not help that responsible and honest judges and lawyers are in short supply. In all this chaos, Eddie is an honest man trying to make an honest living. He has a young kid and a wife. Despite the heinous crimes that seem to happen everyday around the city, they still manage to enjoy things like going to the park. His wife wants to move to a more peaceful city, but Eddie is reluctant. One day while Eddie is working, his wife sees an older gentlemen being taken advantge of by a gang member. No one wants to intervene to help him, fearing brutal retaliation. Indignant from the lack of people's reactions around them, she steps up and helps him. However, the guy she stops follows her and her son to their home.
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Like most memorable revenge films, the film is not afraid to cross a taboo line. While it does not involve sexual violence, it still makes a murder not only obvious, but very jarring and shocking. And this type of murder is one that films even nowdays tend to stay clear from. Despite this harrowing plot element, the more expressionistic Italian style (and the fact most of this horrific act happens off-screen) makes it so that this not feel exploitative. Mind you, this is a revenge film, so there is definitely some exploitation used in the story. What makes this a little easier to stomach is the film knows when it is the right time to turn exploitative. And up until that point in the film the narrative is careful to setup the setting and plot elements, including a fair explanation as to why some previously-law-abiding citizens are taking the law into their own hands. Once Eddie's life has turned upside down and he's had time to realize just how bad law enforcement and the justice system are in the city, he begins to think about turning judge, jury, and executioner as well. This is something he had not even considered before, very pointedly stating his opinion on the matter, contradicting his best friend (a vigilante) when he first suggests he go after his family's attackers himself.
Despite the film being quite exploitative with its bloody and brutal violence, (not to mention exploring the touchy subject of people taking the law into their own hands) it does this within a fair context. The first two thirds in the story explore the different opinions of people turning vigilantes. From the cops, the vigilantes themselves (some of which are Eddie's friends), and finally Eddie. While the film does seem to almost justify taking the law into your own hands when the people that are supposed to protect you just can't or won't, the film is careful enough to explore and develop an explanation for this, greatly supported by Eddie's character development, showing his anger, frustration, and the tough decisions he makes. And the urban setting makes this quite interesting once Eddie starts going after the people who hurt his family. The western-ish fights in the middle of a concrete jungle are stylish and unique. The film is not perfect, mind you. It is a bit obvious that acting from a couple of actors required more range to make justice to their characters. Also, the fates of a couple of vital characters are left dangling. And the final scenes could have done with a bit more action which was done quite well in some of the preceding scenes. Despite these drawbacks, the film is still pretty satisfying. Making you sympathize, and even side, with Eddie as you understand his feelings of frustration and anger when his actions still fall in a grey moral area even in the most justifiable of circumstances.
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Look how the grain structure is more refined and better defined on the 4K transfer. Also how the small leaves and branches of the bush gain more definition. And lastly, how the compression fares better on the 4K disc, with the grain being preserved around bush on the 4K disc, whereas it is practically missing on the top edges of the bush.
Blue Underground have done an impressive 4K restoration of the film. Not only does the picture look very pleasing, but it looks extremely clean, free from damage, while thankfully retaining an excellent amount of fine grain which makes it look very filmic and authentic to its source. Fine detail is excellent as well. It is not the sharpest of films on 4K disc, but, nonetheless the uptick in detail is on full display. Textures on clothes and other objects, such as the brick structure of a buidling in a wide shot, look very impressive, with the white lines between each brick available for close inspection. Any limitations to fine detail are due to the source, and even then, I would be hard pressed to confuse this for a standard blu-ray given the amount of detail present, not to mention how precise the film grain looks.
Dynamic range also enhances the picture quite well. This is especially true during nighttime scenes when the different lights of the city around the streets, be it from cars, buildings, or other sources, pierce the darkness while retaining all the highlights in both brighter and darker areas. Blacks are also plenty deep, just a shade or two from pitch black, but that was expected due to the film source (no real complaints there). This makes the image look both punchy and detailed thanks to all those gradations on either end of the spectrum, and it is a broader range which SDR just can't capture. Colors are more on the muted side of things. This is not a complaint, and more of an observation as the image is obviously kept more monochromatic to achieve an intended style. It stays mostly in tones of gray, light blues, and blacks, which fit the story and themes quite well. There are nice occasions when the wider color is put to good use though, and this is true in none other than in the bloody action sequences where the red stuff looks especially saturated, even in darker settings. There are a few scattered objects here and there that make good use of the wider color, but this is not very often the case. Compression is perfect for 99% of the time. There are a couple of shots where the film grain looked a bit chunky for a second or two against the light blue sky but that's nitpicking. The rest is pretty much spotless.
NOTE: I watched this in Dolby Vision, and given the data scan of the disc, it seems about 8% of the bitrate allocated for video is comprised from the Dolby Vision layer. This means that if you watch it in HDR10 only, there is a chance the compression might not fare as well on occassion than if watched in Dolby Vision.
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Look how the lines of the graffiti are more precise, and how the bricks are better defined between each other. Look also at the man's clothes; the folds on his jacket are easier to make out, and the blue of the jeans looks more natural and realistic.
While overall excellent, it falls just a bit short of perfection due to limitations and age from the source. Clarity is outstanding given the age of the film. Music, sound effects, and dialogue all sounds great and very clean. Dynamic range is also very pleasing, achieving a good amount of energy between objects at different levels, be it mid, high, or low frequencies. The low end is also put to good use, but it is limited. Not surprising, again, given the age and source of the elements, but nonetheless it does provide some nice punch, especially during the gunshots and vehicle crashes. The track is for the most part front heavy, and that is simply appropiate given the great majority of the action happens on screen and not off it. There are some nice occasions, however, when the surrounds and heights are used. For example, while Eddie and Nick are discussing the moral dilemmas of taking justice into your own hands, a helicopter flies over, nicely carried by the front heights. There are other similar instances but not a ton. Otherwise, music and other lighter atmospheric effects make use of them. The surrounds are little more active but not a ton more. A train passing to the viewer's left side makes for some nice directionality effects. Again, most of it is contained to the front, but regardless, directionality is still commendable, and the Dolby Atmos track does expand the soundstage quite nicely in all directions. It is not the most active 3D sound mix out there, but it is both faithful to its source while not being wasted either. If you are Dolby Atmos capable definitely choose this track unless you are a hardcore purist.
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Notice how the flowers, leaves, and patterns of the sheet in the background gain more refinement and subtleties. Same with the clothes. Their textures are better retained. See also how the facial hair does not fall apart on the 4K as it does on the standard (1080p) blu-ray. Lastly, notice how the colors look more natural, with less of a blue push. The denim jacket looks more natural, as does the white of the sheet in the background. And again, how the film grain is more natural and less 'chunky' on the 4K disc vs the 1080p transfer.
Both the standard and 4K discs contain the same extras:
While not much is there in terms of behind-the-scenes footage, the extras in this release of Vigilante are still extensive, even if it is not that varied in terms of content. The first two are interviews with the crew, who look back at the production and release of Vigilante and also give backstories of making the film. The first two commentaries are carried over from previous releases, but they are nonetheless pretty substantial and include members from both the cast and crew including the director, producers, and actors. The third commentary is new, with two critics who talk about the film in its context of time as well as its style. The trailers, spots, reels, and galleries are pretty self explanatory, with the great majority being vintage. The 4K packaging also includes a booklet with pictures and an essay about the film, and the first pressing includes a lenticular outer cover and a reversible inner slip with alternate artwork.
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Despite not being original, along with a few flaws, Vigilante is still an enjoyable revenge flick that shocks even today while not going overboard in its themes. Its blend of urban, western, and expressionistic styles make it quite unique. Blue Underground have done an excellent 4K/HDR transfer from a brand new restoration. Both the picture and the new Dolby Atmos mix make the most of the film's elements, achieving excellent-to-near-perfect results. The extras are solid even if not varied. Definitely worth a purchase if you like the film or other similar 70s or 80s revenge flicks like Death Wish.
NOTE: The screenshots above (including the ones from the slider comparisons) were converted from 10 bit HDR to 8 bit SDR.
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