Olivia Wilde Gives A Transformative Career Best Performance Like You’ve Never Seen Before In “A Vigilante”. The Haunting & Brilliant Writer & Director Debut From Sarah Daggar-Nickson
Last year we had gotten a great indie vigilante thriller called “You Were Never Really Here”, With Joaquin Phoenix. It was the second best film on my list last year. It was so haunting, impactful, emotional, violent and powerful. It was a transcendent experience. I had all of those same feelings watching “A Vigilante”, while not as perfect as “You Were Never Really Here”. It’s a mixture of the Joaquin Phoenix film and Jennifer Lopez’s thriller “Enough”.
It’s all lead by a committed performance from Olivia Wilde (“Life Itself” and “The Change-Up”), In a role that is her career best. You’ve never seen her in anything like this. She drives this brutal and uncompromising revenge saga that feels more empowering than exploitative in dealing with its subject matter. It’s gritty, haunting, emotional and powerful. It is one of those small but brutal films that major directorial careers are made from. Every frame of it feels measured and thoughtful. Brilliantly written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker Sarah Daggar-Nickson.
Olivia Wilde is Sadie, who we meet as a protector of battered women. She tried going to group therapy after her own incident ended with traumatic results. Now she passes her information to females in similar situations, except she intervenes before anything worse can happen. Their husband/boyfriend comes home, is surprised by Sadie and they are “convinced” to leave. She warns them, “If you bother them again I will kill you,” stepping in to whisper, “I want to kill you”. Sadie only requests the clients who ask for her service repay her with food or enough cash until the next job. Until Sadie’s own past comes back with its own vengeance in mind.
This brings us to the embattled Wilde, who packs so much pain and suffering into her performance that unleashes a stone-dead savagery. Whether she’s beating the stuffing out of her punching bag or knocking the next husband down with a swift throat chop, Wilde’s body performance and her eyes blaze with anger, sadness and determination. Olivia Wilde brings so much sorrow, anger and self-guilt bursting out in every scene and in every bit of her performance. It’s a performance that is raw and just perfect in the right ways.
Not all her victims are men or husbands; there’s one encounter with a sick puppy of a mother, who’s raising her two kids as prisoners, that’s more disturbing than anything in Brie Larson’s film “Room”. But one of the things that distinguishes “A Vigilante” from others is it’s interest in the physical effects of violence shown in the aftermath, much like how Joaquin Phoenix’s “You Were Never Really Here” took that approach. It spends it’s time showing the debilitating psychological impact of violence, both on Sadie and on the families she’s trying to help.
As galvanizing as Wilde is in her performance, it’s Sarah Daggar-Nickson’s intensity of skill as a filmmaker that brings “A Vigilante” to life. This is an impressive first feature film, and she executes it in a highly detailed, suspenseful, and emotional fashion. Even when Nickson’s camera locks in on Olivia Wilde who is seen working a punching bag, the camera so tight on her face and upper torso that the swinging motion of her fists makes the viewer feel battered. Nickson is smart about what she shoes and doesn’t show.
Nickson concentrates on the genre basics, as in the movie’s hard-core final face-off. There’s something galvanizing about Olivia Wilde’s character, but also something agonizing about both her loneliness and the bloody, bruised fists that she keeps throwing. Like her punches, the film hits hard in it’s story, direction and Olivia Wilde’s career best performance.
GRADE: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5)