While the police should be the primary form of law enforcement, sometimes they are limited with what they can do. These limitations can be brought about via budgetary or personnel constraints, but the most significant restriction seems to be the law itself. Criminals are only criminal if they’re caught doing something against the law. Even if they are caught, with good enough lawyers, these individuals can sometimes go free. When the law seems to fail the individuals affected by these criminals, there is often a desire to take justice into their own hands. The urge to be a vigilante is usually tempered by the law-breaking that would occur as a part of the act of vengeance. Vigilantes thrived in societies with little to no law enforcement, like the old west, but many modern situations are just as applicable. This week’s two films highlight some vigilantes.
Length: 124 minutes / 2.07 hours
One of the reasons that vigilantes start to emerge in a system is because of corruption. If justice is being hampered by bureaucracy, that’s one thing, but when a biased leadership that wants certain criminals to go free exists, it can be difficult to overcome these limitations without stepping outside the law. Most police officers want to see justice happen, but even the blindly ignorant can usually see where something is wrong with the system. In these cases, either the citizens rise up and become vigilantes, or the cops who want the criminals to be punished will make sure that the criminals’ consequences are doled out. The only difference between these kinds of vigilantes and the ones portrayed in comic-book movies (which seems to be all of them) is that the competence of the police force is not in question in these cases.
Inspector Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) has a lot on his plate and usually finds himself in situations where he needs to act in order to prevent a situation from becoming worse. Of course, the way he performs his job isn’t exactly “by the book.” One of Callahan’s traits is that he often uses his gun to get things done. At the firing range, he runs across a group of four rookie police officers who prove that they’re better with their guns than he is. While mobsters are being murdered around town, Callahan starts to suspect that these cops are taking justice into their own hands, killing the mobsters who have been acquitted through the legal system. When the leader of this “death squad” turns out to be one of the rookies, Callahan is offered a position in their group. Callahan declines the offer and has to use his gun to survive while also bringing these rogue cops to justice.
The Boondock Saints
Length: 108 minutes / 1.8 hours
“‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” While this passage from Romans gives many of the downtrodden hope in their unjust situations, sometimes people turn into vigilantes when they see that God is taking his time. Often, criminal organizations will manage to stay underneath the radar of the police, but will still affect the lives of ordinary citizens. Because there is no evidence that these organizations have done anything wrong, they are allowed to continue unabated. Much of the time, these organizations end up taking advantage of the disadvantaged, mostly because they know these individuals won’t fight back. But, what if some individuals see what’s happening and decide to stand up for these ordinary citizens? They don’t have the legal right to confront the organization, but these vigilantes will do what it takes to solve the problem.
During a St. Patrick’s Day celebration, Irish-American brothers Connor (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Murphy (Norman Reedus) MacManus stand up to some Russian mobsters who want to acquire the pub by force. After being rebuffed by the MacManus brothers, the Russians return the next day to settle the score and are killed in self-defense. While the media lauds these men as heroes, the FBI still start investigating the situation. Agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe) sympathizes with the men and lets them go after a night in a holding cell. Of course, Connor and Murphy have now made the decision to rid Boston of these Russian mobsters. As they start to go about killing these mobsters, Agent Smecker is conflicted as to whether or not to arrest or assist them. When the leader of the Russian mafia goes to trial, the brothers are aided by Smecker and their long-lost father to enact their own brand of justice.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 vehement vigilantes