Sarah Daggar-Nickson’s brutal A Vigilante, feels like it’s coming along at just the right cultural moment that it could become a talking point for female empowerment. It’s a story of trauma, domestic violence and vengeance that’s driven by a fearless, remarkable performance from Olivia Wilde, doing the best work of her career. Whenever the film stumbles narratively – there’s some chronological gamesmanship that doesn’t work and a flawed final act – Wilde is there to pick it up and keep moving it along, just as her character does for the people in the film.
She plays Sadie, a woman we meet putting on a wig, colored contacts, and make-up. Sadie is a vigilante. Anyone who needs help – but primarily women in domestic violence situations – can go through the right channels to find her and, well, get vengeance. She’s not a killer. She’s more of an extractor. She will get the person in need out of their dangerous situation, which is what so many victims of domestic violence can’t do for themselves. And Sadie will use whatever means necessary, including violence. She has trained herself in combat and knows how to force a man to leave his family or rescue a child from a true waking nightmare.
Of course, Sadie does this work because of trauma in her own past. In an early scene, Sadie hears a song that clearly sparks a memory and has a massive breakdown. It’s frightening, and it’s not the last. Wilde gives herself over completely to the most physically challenging role of her career. Sadie is a woman who is all cool when she’s on the job but often screams, cries, and shakes when the trauma that got her here returns in memory. One of the reasons that A Vigilante works is that Wilde and her writer/director are careful to treat people who have suffered violence respectfully and honestly. Trauma and violence aren’t just plot devices in this world – they are a part of an ongoing massacre in this country in which men, mostly men, kill women and children. A Vigilante could have been B-movie exploitation, but it never crosses that line, handling its difficult subject matter well, and reminding us how incredible Wilde can be in the right material.