Eye for an Eye (1996) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Eye for an Eye is a 1996 thriller about which the major critics were very harsh. Ebert and Berardinelli both scored it below two stars, for example. Their primary case was that the plot was too manipulative, the characters not sufficiently developed, and the plot elements painfully exploitative of personal tragedy. While I agreed with those things, I also have to admit that I got emotionally involved in the struggle. If it was shamelessly manipulative, I guess I got manipulated.

It raises an interesting question. If you are trying to build involvement in a pure entertainment picture with no pretensions to social relevance, is it OK to manipulate the audience with any exploitation device available to you? Is there anything wrong with showing the baddie as a drooling, one-dimensional monster who rapes an equally one-dimensional straight-A sweet virginal honor student, so that we root for the victim's mother to kill him, even if she has to do so in cold blood? I don't know the answer to that, really. Much of the history of film involves the contrived manipulation of our sympathies. Would making this movie more complex and nuanced make it better? I don't know.

I'm not even sure if additional mystery would have made it better. The film could have taken a different route, and left some doubt about whether the suspect was guilty, therefore causing us to question our unbridled sympathy with the mother's point of view. The filmmakers chose not to do so, presumably because they wanted us to be in concert with what The Flying Nun was trying to achieve. On an raw emotional level, I fell for it as I was watching the film. Only later, when I thought about it, did I start to question whether this was the best way to handle the script. I still haven't come to any conclusions.


Sally Field's daughter is raped and killed. The girl was on the phone with Sally at the time, so Sally actually earwitnessed the crime. Sally was in a traffic jam during her daughter's struggle. She tried to get passers-by to call 911, but they rolled up their windows in the best case. In the worst case they honked their horns and said "move your car, lady".

(I can't explain, because I don't understand, why Sally didn't hang up her own phone to call 911, thus saving precious moments which might have saved her daughter's life, instead of listening helplessly to the crime. I must have missed something.)


none, despite two brutal rapes and a sex scene

The guy is caught. He is clearly guilty. The physical evidence is conclusive. The police know he did it, and we know he did it, because we see him rape another woman in the same manner elsewhere in the film. We know he is a one-dimensional movie bad guy, as opposed to a real person. He is not wearing a stovepipe hat or twirling his moustache, but he might as well be. If this guy doesn't own a sawmill, I'd be mighty surprised. Not only do we know that he did it, but we know that he is unabashedly, deliberately evil for the sake of being evil. Oh, yeah, psychotic as well. This guy thinks Stalin was a clear thinker, but also a gentle-hearted wimp.

(As an example of his official movie bad guy behavior, at one point he tells Sally that the raped daughter was "really a good fuck" - while ol' Sal is holding a loaded gun, no less!)

Needless to say, he is released on a legal technicality.

Sally then decides to take the law into her own hands. She trails the guy, trying to catch him in an incriminating act, but when he figures this game out, he has even more fun, and he starts to hang out at the playground where Sally's other daughter plays. Sally does not take kindly to this, so she decides to take her quest underground, and taps into some new contacts to obtain a stolen gun.  But it turns out that the FBI is investigating the people she got the gun from, using wiretaps, undercover agents, the whole shebang. In other words, the Feds know everything about her plans. Sally accidentally uncovers the undercover FBI agent, and in so doing she finds out that they know about her plans. Oops!

Now are you with me? Sally can't put the guy away legally. She can't even put the guy away illegally, because the FBI knows every word she has uttered in the past weeks, so shooting the guy would simply get ol' Gidget the chair. Yet the movie has to end somehow.

I'll bet you can figure it out without my revealing it. Here are your choices:

1. The crazy killer repressed his murderous instincts, and never committed another crime. This left him immune from prosecution, but he still walked past Sally's house and her daughter's playground constantly, just to remind them of their vulnerability. He always flashed them an evil smile.

2. The crazy killer, being crazy, stalked Sally herself. She still had the gun, so she shot him in self-defense, and everyone was morally and legally satisfied.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen anamorphic, 1.85

I kinda thought it failed as a thriller in the last analysis because it painted itself into a corner where there was only one possible solution. A quirky independent might have taken a daring route like #1 above, but this was a studio picture with big stars, and it aimed for the mass market. We know the baddie has to get comeuppance, we know the police can do nothing, and the FBI has told Sally Field that they know of her plan for revenge, and that she can do nothing unless it is in self-defense.

So what does the ending have to be?

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: one and a half stars. Ebert 1/4, Berardinelli 1.5/4, BBC 3/5.

The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: Moderately successful. It grossed $54 million at the theaters. Despite the critics, many thought it worked as a nail-biter.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C- if viewed as a thriller. As a thriller, it is watchable for the most part. It builds some tension in the moment, and I was getting involved in the scenes. Ultimately, however, it suffers the greatest sin for a thriller - it becomes obvious to the audience how it must end, long before that inevitable end actually occurs.  (Viewed as a psychological study or a serious study of crime and punishment in our society, it is a D or lower, because of the lack of subtlety.)

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