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John Doe: Vigilante: Film Review

John Doe: Vigilante - H 2014
Main Street Films

The Bottom Line

Where's Charles Bronson when you need him?

Director

Kelly Dolen

Screenwriter

Stephen M. Coates

Cast

Jamie Bamber, Lachy Hulme, Gary Abrahams, Sam Parsonson, Brendan Clearkin

A masked serial killer targets career criminals in this Australian thriller.

John Doe: Vigilante is a thoughtful examination of the failures of the legal system, pondering the question of whether violent vigilantism is a reasonable alternative in a time when rampant crime goes unpunished.

Just kidding … It’s really an exploitative action film that attempts to cloak its lurid elements in a pretentious air of seriousness that’s unlikely to fool anyone. And it seems disingenuous to pretend that the issue is a new one, considering that audiences were happily cheering Charles Bronson when he was blowing away muggers in Death Wish more than four decades ago.

This Australian thriller being released here before in its native country concerns the exploits of its titular character who’s on trial for thirty-three counts of murder. Just as his verdict is to be announced on the courtroom steps a massive explosion occurs and the story moves into flashback mode.  

Structured around a series of jailhouse interviews with the handsome, articulate vigilante (Jamie Bamber) conducted by an aggressive TV journalist (Lachy Hulme), the film proceeds to depict numerous scenes of his killing spree which are captured on video and broadcast to a rapt public.

It turns out that the masked avenger is targeting only bad guys. The really bad kind, such as murderers, rapists, pedophiles and the like, career criminals one and all. And he’s very good at what he does, even if he does seem to have a few qualms about it.

“Killing is easy. It’s living with it that’s the hard part,” he tells the journalist, not so convincingly.

Meanwhile, his murderous exploits are cheered on by a certain segment of the population who has even organized a “Speak for the Dead” movement on his behalf.

Screenwriter Stephen M. Coates unveils a few clever narrative jolts, such as Doe’s sudden offer to stop the killings if the government pays him ten million dollars and a shocking final twist concerning the jailhouse interviews.

But he stacks the deck by making Doe’s victims so unrelievedly heinous that of course one doesn’t mind when they’re unceremoniously dispatched. And the revelation of John Doe’s real motivation feels all too pat.

Director Kelly Dolen stages the violent mayhem with skillful efficiency, and the film’s taut pacing doesn’t invite boredom. But John Doe: Vigilante ultimately fails in its purported mission to make us think about the issues it supposedly raises, despite the tie-in “Speak for the Dead” mobile game that presumably provides viewers the opportunity to put themselves in its titular character’s shoes.

Opens March 21 (Main Street Films)

Production: Rapid Fire Entertainment

Cast: Jamie Bamber, Lachy Hulme, Gary Abrahams, Sam Parsonson, Brendan Clearkin, Brooke Ryan

Director: Kelly Dolen

Screenwriter: Stephen M. Coates

Producers: James M. Vernon, Kristy Vernon, Keith Sweitzer, David Lightfoot

Executive producers: Leanne Walker, Wayne Duband, Stephen M. Coates, Rob Woodburn

Director of photography: David Parker

Editor: James Cole

Production designers: Carrie Kennedy, Ben Morieson

Composer: David Hirschfelder

Rated R, 93 min.