Dir: Joel Schumacher
Star: Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall, Barbara Hershey, Tuesday Weld
It’d be easy to dismiss this as a simple polemic about the poor, downtrodden white male, but it’s actually a good deal more subtle than it initially appears. The keystone is Douglas’s performance as D-FENS, known only by his license-plate, creating a character at once troubled and troubling, sympathetic and scary, who never sees himself as the bad guy, even after he has shot a man dead. This is not a simple vigilante picture, but a study in contrasts between D-FENS and Prendergast (Duvall), the cop pursuing him, whose life has the same pressures of work and family, but has responded to them in a totally different way. Both have their employment, which has defined them for years. Both see that taken away. One shrugs his shoulders and moves on; the other embarks on a crusading rampage of escalating violence.
It’d be equally easy to dismiss this as racist, especially as the first two encounters D-FENS have are both with minorities. However, that’d be wrong, as the film is equal opportunity in its cynical depiction of a society where the golden rule is, he who has the gold, makes the rules. Easily the most depraved is the white, homophobic, neo-Nazi surplus-store owner, which doesn’t so much slide into caricature as gleefully embrace it with open arms. That’s about the only time the film tilts over into ineffective parody; for the most part, the scenarios generally work because of plausibility. That’s the most disturbing aspect of this film: we’ve all been on the receiving end of the callous nature of modern society, and only our moral checks prevent us from reacting the same way.
What we wrote then  This is an incredibly clever piece of movie-making that stands a lot of liberal conventions on their head, with a refreshing lack of political correctness. At least one of the incidents in the film, where D-FENS (Douglas) fights for the rights of the little guy, is guaranteed to strike a chord, yet the movie never panders to the lowest common denominator, treating the audience with respect and letting them work things out for themselves. It is also a very funny movie, which most critics seem to avoid mentioning, it’s far more of a black comedy than I expected; the ‘thriller’ sections seem tacked on, as if to provide an excuse for the humour. But Duvall’s cop does provide an interesting contrast to D-FENS, though you’re left thinking either one could have “fallen down”. Or indeed, any of us could… A-