Rating: 4 out of 5 teenage vigilantes searching the night for vengeance.
Plot Synopsis: A young man is witness to the violent murder of his mother and spends his youth getting preparing himself to find the killer. During his hunt for his mother’s killer he decides to practice on some local hoods.
-We get a good bonding moment between a mother and child, a flash of something violent happening to the mother at a different time and place followed by a young man running for exercise in a park. A good way to establish who this person is and what their parental relationship was early on.
-There’s a fat hobo on the subway that looks like Russell Crowe.
-They establish early on Sean’s (the boy in the opening) tense relationship with his dad. At first you wonder what the exact deal is as the father seems to be trying to relate to his kid and the kid shuts him down but as the movie progresses you start to understand the fathers character better and see why their relationship is the way it is.
-They establish a love that Sean and his mother shared for classical music and then use classical music to score the movie, which is just perfect.
-Sean’s first vigilante encounter is intense and brutal. It starts with him being afraid and hesitant, then he gets his ass kicked before finally fighting back. It ends with him accidently murdering the guy he was after.
-Detective Billy Baldwin. That’s not the actor, that’s just the character’s name.
-The casually racist partner, I realize he’s not supposed to be likable or charming but he kind of is.
-Caleb Steinmeyer as Sean, the titular Boy Wonder. He’s actually really good at conveying both tortured introvert and physical badass. You can tell he’s weighed down by something but once he starts taking out bad guys you see different side of him.
-There’s a scene where Sean’s father shows him some boxing technique and it clearly unnerves Sean, at first you don’t really understand why but when they start to reveal that the father has a history alcoholism and physical abuse you can understand why his relationship with his father is so tense.
-I got to give it up to Daniel Stewart Sherman as casually racist detective, I’m pretty sure he’s supposed to be entirely unliked but I can’t help but like him. His delivery is great and he steals every scene he’s in and provides a great foil for Zulay Heneo
-The second vigilante encounter is my favorite scene in the movie. He tracks down a pimp named Joe who’s twice his size and end’s up getting beat pretty bad before finally “winning”. But the scene has the most to say. This pimp is barely deterred by the beating he receives, he blames the woman for causing this and tells Sean that his efforts to save the woman he was beating was all for nothing and in fact all Sean did was make it worse. Worse for Sean, worse for the woman and worse for everyone. Sean responds to this revelation by shooting Joe in the neck with the gun he got in his first encounter. Then when the cops interview the woman he saved she goes on to tell them about how this vigilante has saved her life.
So what’s interesting about this scene, and ultimately this scene is what makes the movie for me, is that it demonstrates why a non-killing hero doesn’t work in the real world. Because people who do stuff like that are, for the most part, unrepentant. They don’t respond to conversation, they don’t respond to therapy and they don’t respond to physical abuse. Odds are they have already experience abuse so any beating you deliver will just be used as fuel for their future rage. The only kind of vigilante that works in our real world is one that kills. One that bypasses due process entirely and eliminates the problem as they see it. However there is no human being born with the ability to be objective enough to justify such action. You can’t know the situation and you can’t just go around killing people based on superficial evidence. Granted Sean uses the Police databases to find his targets but later on he beats up a mentally ill homeless man. Who’s to say that’s right? Who’s to say any of what he did is right? I think that is what’s interesting about this movie. It presents this decision and gives you both the brutality and violence of the act along with both positive and negative outcomes of committing the act without romanticizing it or falling clearly on one side or the other. For every arguably good act Sean performs he performs an equally questionable act and it’s up to you to decide where the line is.
-You see the brutal toll the vigilante lifestyle takes on this normal guy. He’s withdrawn, he does steroids to try and keep in a physically top shape.
-There’s a great scene of Sean in the gym performing martial arts.
-There’s another great scene in the morgue where we learn about a plot device that will come into play later on.
-There’s a scene where Sean is walking down the street and they show him watching other people and they show a couple of emotionally intense scenes (a couple arguing and a mother disciplining her child for hitting his sister) and we see the incidents through Sean’s eyes and then we see them objectively for what they really are. Sean sees them as overly aggressive and chaotic while the camera sees them for what they are, which are much calmer and more in control. So we see Sean may not be the most reliable narrator and that he may not be the person to trust as a vigilante.
-When Sean smears on his make up before confronting a mentally ill homeless man. The man does seem threatening but we’ve seen him before and it’s shown the homeless man is mostly harmless. Sean smears this make up on his face, his eyes rolling upward and proceeds to beat this shit out of this man. The first time we see him do something that isn’t “clearly” good. We start to go down this road of questionable behavior that informs the rest of the film.
-There’s a great scene when Sean’s father tries to reconcile with him and tells him that on the night Sean’s mother died she’s the one that died and not Sean and Sean needs to live.
-There’s a scene at a party Sean goes to where he crosses the border of man seeking justice and just as bad as a criminal. There he witnesses a man being physically forward with a woman and intervenes on her behalf and what starts as an arguably reasonably amount of force to stop this guy spirals out of control when he kicks the guy while he’s defenseless and then beats on him with a fireplace poker. Someone else tries to hold back Sean and they get beat for their trouble. In this case he was the aggressor and someone tried to save another person from him.
-Sean confronts his father about his father’s possible role in his mother’s murder. It’s emotional and heat breaking but it is ultimately the final questionable act of Sean. There’s no definitive evidence that Sean’s father was involved in his mother’s death. You have a situation where you have two unreliable characters, Sean, who is shown to be just on the wrong side of stable and Sean’s father who has a history of being a terrible monster but seems to be trying to redeem himself. There’s just enough evidence for you to not know who to believe. This also show’s why you can’t have vigilante’s running about doing whatever they want. We don’t know if Sean killed someone guilty of playing a part in the murder of their wife for insurance money or if Sean murdered someone who was totally innocent but was someone who Sean felt victimized by and was therefore biased against.
-In the end we are supposedly provided definitive proof of Sean’s father innocence in the form of a confession from the assumed actual murderer of Sean’s mother. But again that character is established as being a terrible person who lies and manipulates his way out of a life sentence. He is no more reliable than any of our other characters and while he does signify Sean’s father’s innocence we can’t know if it’s the truth or a mind game being played by a criminal.
-The weakest acting link is Zulay Heneo. Her body language is good, all her non-talking acting is actually great but when she speaks things get kind of weak. Everything is just very flat and emotionless.
-There’s not much ugly here and what little ugly there is in picture quality could be explained by my internet connection.
Final Thoughts: This movie is a great little hidden gem. That’s the great thing about Netflix, things like this can exist and find an audience. I didn’t know a thing about this movie, I hadn’t heard of it, no rumblings or anything. About once a month I cruise through Netflix to see if I can find anything new that’s superhero related and this popped up. I originally watched this back when I didn’t have time to write reviews and I stuck it on the back burner waiting for when I had more time.
This movie does a lot with what it has. It raises interesting questions and delivers very few clear answers instead leaving it to the audience to find the answers for themselves. At first this seems like a pro-vigilante movie, something like The Brave One or Death Sentence which, I think, ultimately show vigilantism as a the only means to an end due to a bloated, ineffective justice system. Those movies show a protagonist that is a victim but stable (it’s a little more complicated in Death Sentence but at no point is he shown as insane), the protagonist is right in their seeking of justice above the system and when they achieve this it is viewed as a good thing (again, a little more complicated in the case of Death Sentence). This movie however starts you on the side of Sean and then slowly shows you why you shouldn’t trust Sean. It shows you why you can’t have non-violent vigilantes and because of that why you can’t trust an individual to be a vigilante. You can’t give the ability to determine guilt or innocence or life or death to an average person because the average person is too flawed to reliably make that decision.
Sure Sean combs the police database but what if instead of finding an unrepentant criminal he finds someone trying to change their life for the better but all Sean see’s is someone who deserves “justice” and he kills that person in the pursuit of that “justice” (essentially what happens with the father character)? Then that is murder and it’s up to some other force to stop Sean. He is not above other people and the system we have in place is to ensure that people get as fair a chance as possible. Is that always the case? No, it’s not, it’s clearly not, but the solution to that isn’t having a bunch of random citizens out there killing people they feel slighted by. It always starts with the best of intentions but eventually it just becomes something you do and suddenly you find yourself flying off the handle at the slightest provocation because you think you are justified in doing so. Being a vigilante is no different than any of the other people using violence as a means to an end and it becomes a slippery slope from “I did what I had to do” to “I did what I wanted to do”.
This movie made me think and I feel it would make others think to. At no point is an answer presented to you on a silver plate which makes any conclusion you come to acceptable but allows room for discussion and I think that is the mark of a well-made movie, superhero or otherwise.