2014 / Director. Kelly Dolen.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Vigilante films come and go and they're often accompanied by a backlash of criticism. The films that play more for entertainment value (LAW ABIDING CITIZEN, THE DARK KNIGHT, THE CROW) usually brush past unsuspecting critics and become part of the cinematic norm... but then there are those vigilante films, which cut close to home with their realism and manage to upset and frighten a lot of people. Films like DEATH WISH, FALLING DOWN and TAXI DRIVER reflect a deep seeded honesty, which most people can identify with, that proves to be too confronting for some. This new Australian film JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE somehow rests in the middle. Its chaotic and heightened reality lends it a far-fetched comic book aesthetic that's not too far removed from V FOR VENDETTA and yet the issues and crimes, of which it rallies against, are real. They are the same type of stories we see every day in newspaper headlines and the same type of crimes that enrage most of us whenever we read about them. The film tells the story of a vigilante killer called John Doe. He has waged a personal war against criminal re-offenders and flagrantly flaunts his actions for the tabloid-hungry media. Few people watching can argue with his plight and yet the moral ambiguity of what he is doing will resonate differently amongst viewers. The film itself isn't looking to solve any of society's problems but it is seeking a discussion. The message I took from the film is that the justice system is broken and something needs to be done about it. Of course this is an age old issue and we have countless vigilante films reflecting people's frustrations. Director Kelly Dolen and writer Stephen Coates have created a strange, violent and provocative action-thriller. Despite being set in Melbourne the film boasts an international appeal with it's excellent cinematography and elaborate action sequences. It also uses various international news anchor montage sequences to pitch its story above the usual Australian drivel. It's also very much a genre film and Australia always needs more of those. I found JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE challenging in different ways and upon reflection this was possibly due to it being both realistic in its message yet extravagant with its entertainment value. The one certainty is that it will get people talking. Do we agree with John Doe's plight? Would we do the same thing? Do things need to change? It's an important conversation and this film is a great spring board for it.