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Review: John Doe – Vigilante

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“If you are a law-abiding citizen you have nothing to fear.”

Synopsis: His ideals are driven by logic and reasoning, and nothing more. His voice, his actions, his message, all executed with emotionless precision, to obtain a prescribed emotional response. The criminal known as John Doe is a vigilante, one who has been been caught after a prolonged hunt during which he claimed thirty-three victims. The question is, why did it take so long to catch this so-called criminal?

Vigilantes are pretty cool… lawbreakers but cool. Really, they’re kind of superheroes without the superpowers. But Batman, John Doe (colon “Vigilante”) is not. The two are not to be compared heavily – they are very different entities – but whilst Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy touched on the subject of the unlawfulness of Batman’s vigilantism, John Doe: Vigilante is all about exploring the hard what-ifs of an amateur do-gooder cleaning up the streets.

‘Cleaning up’ the streets may be a bit of an oxymoron though when John Doe is responsible for some pretty grisly and bloody deaths. Those deaths are only of paedophiles, murderers and various other citizens with “criminal” on their CV. It is this extremely bloody and violent nature with very little law authority concern that piques the interest of Fat, Australian Sean Penn (played by Lachy Hulme), an investigative reporter attempting to uncover the truth about the vigilante as he follows John Doe’s incarceration and trial for over thirty murders.

Peppered with news reports, faux archive footage, amateur video from social websites and the uprising of a movement in favour of John Doe’s vigilantism against bottom-of-the-shoe criminals, John Doe: Vigilantefeels like the beginnings of an excellent episode of the speculative series Black Mirror. A social commentary on the moral debate and rage that would come about should a person like John Doe (played very facelessly by Battlestar Galactica’s Jamie Bamber) ever crop up in the news, along with the authoritative conspiracies that appear along the way – after all, who should the police go after: the murderer of a young, innocent school-teacher or the murderer of a serial rapist?

When tugging on the strings of media and justice what-ifs, John Doe: Vigilante is an intriguing watch. Most of the arguments posited are hardly new but the way they are handled, with a cohesive investigation driven by naturalistic actors, make for some good chin-stroking moments. Similarly, the violence featured throughout isn’t so much ‘new’ as it is ‘depraved in an entertaining way’. Think 2013’s Maniac (or the 1980 original), with its splats and crunches. When juxtaposed with realistic news reports and bumbling politicians there is much to like about the film’s differing tones.

Perhaps the only major sleight with John Doe: Vigilante is that it leans heavily towards pro-vigilantism. Both sides of the argument are addressed and explored but there is an overt feeling that director Kelly Dolen and screenwriter Stephen M. Coates might believe a little too much occasionally that moral atrocities can benefit the greater good – but at the same time, their definitive, here’s both sides of the argument but we’re taking a side anyway method allows for some great discussion post-film. John Doe: Vigilante is pretty neat: a fine blend of Arrow-meets-Black Mirror-meets-Certificate 18 video game violence; intelligent and entertaining, this is well worth a watch.

@sjbowron

John Doe: Vigilante is currently in cinemas in the U.S. Updates to follow for a UK release.

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