'Eye for an Eye'

EntertainmentMoviesCrimeCrime, Law and JusticeEd HarrisKiefer SutherlandSally Field

Picture Sally Field as Charles Bronson and you have about half of what "Eye for an Eye" is about: the vicarious thrill of watching jerry-built justice meted out to a more-than-deserving lowlife, while we sit agitated but safe in the warm embrace of our movie seat.
     What makes this film more than mere visual vigilantism is John Schlesinger, of whom it can be safely asked, what happened? He shows flashes of the old brilliance here--the talent that made "Midnight Cowboy" so moving and "Marathon Man" such a nail-biter--in telling this modern horror tale of the court system gone awry. It's unfortunate that after the messy construction of his last film, "The Innocent," he hasn't directed his gifted self toward something with a bit more intelligence.
     In a film that pits the haves against the have-nots without the slightest trace of irony or insight, Karen McCann has it all--which at the beginning of a film usually means she's going to lose it all. Or at least part of it. She has the house; the job; the second husband, Mack (Ed Harris); the daughter from the first marriage, Julie (Olivia Burnette); the daughter from the second marriage, Megan (Alexandra Kyle); and a worldview that makes no contingencies for chaos. Then, as she's driving home one day and talking to Julie on her cell phone, Karen listens while an intruder brutally rapes and kills her daughter.
     It's the most visceral sequence in the film, as it should be: Schlesinger makes it barbaric, primitive, kicks us in the teeth with it. Karen, meanwhile, is reduced to running helplessly through a traffic jam trying to keep contact with her daughter while getting someone else to call the cops. She's ignored, refused, until someone does call, far too late.
     Arrested is Robert Doob, played with sneering, beery malevolence by Kiefer Sutherland. A career criminal and all-purpose animal, Doob gets off because the D.A.'s office screws up and Karen is left looking stunned and stupid, as her daughter's killer walks away laughing. From then on, she's obsessed.
     This is easy stuff, of course. It isn't hard to use a vicious crime and audiences' presumptions about prosecutorial incompetence to raise their blood pressure. What happens, unfortunately, in "Eye for an Eye" is that the laziness of the story, which goes precisely where you think it will, overshadows the stylistic virtuosity of Schlesinger's direction, which is fast-paced, fluid and keeps us consistently off balance.
     It's a curious thing about these kinds of films: A violent crime has many victims, but by focusing on one character--in this case, Karen--it reduces everyone else to a detail, or an annoyance. As Mack, Ed Harris is his usual stand-up self and his character is perfect in a way because he almost never cracks, never stops supporting Karen when she needs him. Once, when she accuses him of having suffered less of a loss than she, he loses his temper--but he does because she's right. It wasn't his daughter, and his reaction is from guilt, not anger. No one suffers nearly as much as Karen does in this film, and that's part of its problem.      At the same time, Fields' sour nervousness is just right for Karen, who gets involved in a parents-of-victims support group and, subsequently, a network of vigilantes being pursued by the FBI. When she discovers that the feds are on to them, it seemed to me that she should have let her cohorts know, but she doesn't, either because she's too self-involved or the film is too involved with her. Either way, Karen McCann isn't that special, or that interesting.


Eye for an Eye, 1996. R, for language and disturbing violence that includes rape. A Michael I. Levy production, released by Paramount. Director John Schlesinger. Producer Michael I. Levy. Screenplay by Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa. Cinematographer Amir Mokri. Editor Peter Honess. Costumes Bobbie Read. Music James Newton Howard. Production design Stephen Hendrickson. running time: 1 hour 41 minutes. Karen McCann as Sally Field. Mack McCann as Ed Harris. Julie McCann as Olivia Burnette. Megan McCann as Alexandra Kyle. Robert Doob as Kiefer Sutherland. Sgt. Denillo as Joe Mantegna. Dolly Green as Beverly D'Angelo. Angel Kosinsky as Charlayne Woodard.

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