Eye for an Eye

(John Schlesinger, USA, 1996)


In any history of the cinema of hysteria, four things would stand out: director John Schlesinger, the true forerunner to Oliver Stone; the vigilante civilian cycle of the ’70s; more recent thrillers about urban paranoia; and that unbearable actor Sally Field.

Someone had the bright idea of combining all these in Eye For An Eye, and the result is – you guessed it – hysterical.

Schlesinger rummages through his old bag of cheap tricks and shock tactics, beginning with the opening plot trauma. The film intercuts frantically between the brutal violation and murder of innocent young Julie (Olivia Burnette) by the beastly delivery man, Doob (Kiefer Sutherland), and Julie’s mother Karen (Sally Field), caught in traffic, screaming for help from an indifferent mass of commuters.

Unable to find any satisfaction from the law (as embodied by cop Joe Mantegna), Karen turns to an illicit training course for would-be vigilantes hell bent on revenge. As in many recent thrillers, Karen is an initially comfortable, WASP heroine whose quest takes her into a veritable underworld of multicultural hangouts and rough, proletarian manners.

Eye For An Eye comes from the team that devised The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992), Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa. As in that film, they take a hot social topic and attempt to provide a dynamic, shifting perspective on it.

But moviegoers would do far better to hire any old, messy B film about urban justice from the video shop than endure this slop from Schlesinger. Where this empty, mechanical, mediocre thriller ends is exactly where more challenging films usually begin.

MORE Schlesinger: The Day of the Locust, The Next Best Thing, Pacific Heights

© Adrian Martin July 1996

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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