THE PRO-DEATH penalty contingent picketing outside the prison in Dead Man Walking would dance on their placards at EYE FOR AN EYE (Paramount, R), the story of an unrepentant scum who gets what he deserves. It’s not strictly kosher, I realize, to compare a serious, lyrical meditation on the spiritual challenges of capital punishment with a broad domestic revenge fantasy, but it’s not inappropriate, either: While Dead Man thoughtfully sorts out the limitations of a justice system, however imperfect, Eye goes to town with what can happen when the system fails and the victim’s mom gets a gun. As directed by John Schlesinger from a script by Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa, it’s an exercise in mad-as-hell vigilantism. And to reinforce the absurdity of what fury can be unleashed in a woman when a killer smirks, Sally Field — the Not Without My Daughter star herself — plays the ponytailed mom with the itchy trigger finger.
Schlesinger, the crafty veteran of hits (Marathon Man) and misses (Honky Tonk Freeway), starts Eye with a jolt: Karen McCann (Field) is stuck in traffic, talking on a car phone to her older daughter, when she hears the doorbell ring. She hears the teenager answer. She hears — and we are given chilling visual flashes of — a sickening struggle as the girl is murdered in front of her ears. It’s a deeply unnerving and powerful bit of moviemaking.
But then things go aimless and fritter into the land of a thousand women-in-peril setups. The killer, one Robert Doob (a beefy Kiefer Sutherland), is a sociopath who spits, curses, and tortures dogs when not raping and killing; not even a nun could get through to his alleged soul. And the criminal justice system is so rotten that a mishandling of the creep’s sperm sample kicks him free. Will the cops ignore Karen’s warnings that Doob is about to stalk another victim? Will Ed Harris, as Karen’s husband, plead with his wife not to shut him and their younger daughter out of her life? Will bird-size Karen, refracted through Field’s game glossiness, somehow find the strength to protect her family when even the L.A. police are helpless? What do you think, punk? C+