The Cinema of Revenge Part II

Olivia Wilde in the revenge movie A Vigilante

Jennifer Garner and Olivia Wilde deal with revenge in two different ways in two recent movies.

It didn’t take the Me Too movement for some men to know women are just as tough and strong as men. It didn’t take the Me Too movement to inform a lot of men that certain things done to women are wrong. For some men it took the Me Too movement to make them realize there’s only so far you can push a woman until she pushes back and kicks some ass. Two recent movies deal with revenge in different ways.


Jennifer Garner isn’t a stranger to the action genre. Her first outing was in the role of Sydney Bristow in Alias. As successful as Alias was, Garner’s first outing for the big screen didn’t fare as well. Elektra was panned by critics and audiences alike. Peppermint finds Garner back in the action genre after a long break.

Peppermint is as close to a female Punisher as we’re likely to get on the big screen. Garner plays Riley North, a mother and a banker. She’s married to Chris and has a daughter, Carly (Cailey Flemming, Judith on The Walking Dead). Chris, may or may not, have a shady background. It’s never really developed how shady his background may have been, but it was shady enough he was asked to be the get away driver in a heist.

Jennifer Garner and movie family in the revenge movie Peppermint

Although Chris turns down the offer the Colombian or Mexican (take your pick) drug cartel kill him and their daughter at a carnival in front of Riley. After the murder, she is faced with testifying against the shooters. In true Punisher style the killers are freed because of a corrupt judge, a corrupt district attorney, and a corrupt police officer. Riley disappears after the trial only to resurface five years later hellbent on revenge.

Unlike Frank Castle, Riley wasn’t already a Vietnam veteran or an Iraq War veteran, depending on what origin story you like, who knew an insane amount of martial arts and was a master of every single weapon created by man. Instead, Riley steals $55,000 from the bank she worked at to travel the world learning different fighting styles and weapons training. It’s a stretch of the imagination, but in revenge movies you have to leave preconceived notions at the door.

Peppermint is as violent as most movies in the revenge genre. In the opening scene Riley puts a bullet in one of the killer’s head. After she has killed all three murders she hangs their dead bodies from a Ferris wheel. The corrupt judge she wraps in explosives and blows him up. For the epic finale, head bad guy Diego Garcia (an uninspired name if there ever was in a movie) faces Riley in one last showdown. Of course it ends exactly like you think it will end.

Jennifer Garner hides for an ambush in the revenge movie Peppermint
“I’m going to shoot you in your fucking face and figure it out from there.”

Even though Peppermint failed miserably at the box office it isn’t a bad movie. Is it the Lawrence of Arabia of revenge movies? No, it’s not. At best, Peppermint is average. It tries to be the Punisher so much so Riley’s base of operations is in a run down part of the city like Thomas Jane’s Punisher. Shoehorned into the movie are a group of children who help Riley in times of need. Actually, the kids help her once but we’re meant to believe they’re her lookouts and have formed some sort of relationship with Riley.

If you can get over the forced drama, the run of the mill drug dealers, the cliched bad cop, and focus on some of the better gun fights Peppermint is the way to go. If you’re looking for more than a cliched story and John Wick wannabe gun battles avoid Peppermint.

A Vigilante

Olivia Wilde made a splash recently with her directorial debut Booksmart. Wilde also makes a splash in another director’s first feature. Sarah Daggar-Nickson’s A Vigilante is unlike any other revenge film that’s come out in recent years. There are no explosions, no gun battles, no one is being hung from anything. It’s the complete opposite of Peppermint.

Wilde plays Sadie, a survivor of domestic violence. Sadie’s life is turned upside down after her abusive husband kills their young son. As we learn later he’s psychotic and he takes his anger out on Sadie. Once Sadie is freed from his abuse she turns to help other abused women. It’s a role stripped of any glamour or beauty we normally associate with Wilde.

Olivia Wilde in the revenge movie A Vigilante

Sadie lives by a code. The code is to not take lives if possible, but make abusers pay for what they’ve done. In the opening scene Sadie sends an abusive husband packing only after making him fork over most of his assets to his wife. Her departing words to the man is not to bother his wife ever again and if he does she will kill him. Is it a threat she’s willing to go through with if the situation were to arise? After the last scene of the movie it’s absolutely believable she would find the husband and kill him.

One woman, Charlene, Sadie helps tells her she may miss her boyfriend because she felt like she had to fight for his love so the abuse made it seem worth it. It’s the cycle of abuse Sadie is trying to break in her own way. It may be misguided because Sadie can’t be with the women she frees twenty-four hours a day. Unfortunately, the odds of these women returning to their abusers is high. However, Sadie won’t stop helping the abused.

Olivia Wilde's busted knuckles in the revenge movie A Vigilante

The movie is told in flashbacks. At times it becomes difficult to tell what is a flashback and what’s the present. It’s a confusing mess, but it’s an almost forgivable mess because of Wilde’s performance and the emotions in the movie. We witness the affects of the violence and the ramifications of the violence. Rarely in movies do we see what happens after the violence. A Vigilante does not shy away from showing the results of violence.

A Vigilante isn’t the revenge movie you’re looking for if you only want to see explosions, gun fights, and guts. It’s the movie you want to see if you’re looking for a revenge movie working on a deeper level than other movies in the genre. It’s perhaps Wilde’s best role to date. It’s a smaller, independent movie deserving people’s time and attention. You won’t regret it.

Olivia Wilde in the revenge movie A Vigilante