It seemed like just another ordinary day for museum worker Karen McCann (Sally Field), she was seeing about setting up a birthday party for her youngest daughter Megan (Alexandra Kyle), who she had had with her current husband Mack (Ed Harris), while her eldest daughter Julie (Olivia Burnette) stayed at home to see about helping with the party. But on her way home, Karen was stuck in a traffic jam and called Julie to see how she was doing, when the doorbell rang; on answering it, the teenage girl cried out and her mother was horrified to hear the sound of her being attacked, then the phone hung up. Now her worst fears have been confirmed, will the murderer be caught?
Of course not, because this was a Hollywood vigilante movie that somehow was not made in the nineteen-eighties, when Reaganite avengers stalked the streets and blew away the punks and perps, but in the Clinton era when everyone was supposed to be a lot milder in temperament (whether they actually were is another matter). Getting her Charles Bronson on was the unlikely figure of Sally Field, and even less likely the man at the helm was a master at sensitive but incisive drama, John Schlesinger, who admitted he only took this job because at this stage it was all he was being offered, and as he liked to work, beggars could not be choosers. Hence, this reactionary thriller.
As in the eighties, the deck was so stacked against the liberal point of view that criminals should be punished by locking them up for a long time with a conservative view that anyone breaking the law was utter scum and should the crime be heinous enough, executing them was the only reasonable response. As our villain, Robert Doob (Kiefer Sutherland) was so unbelievably obnoxious that we were invited to agree he should receive the lethal injection for spitting on the street, not liking dogs and having a scar on his face that was evidence of his evil ways, though he would do a lot worse, as we knew, and Karen knew, he was the murderer of her child, and he had walked away a free man.
This was all to do with the legal system being flawed and setting evildoers back on the streets to commit more crimes when if they were dead, we would theoretically have nothing more to worry about. As the middle-class white lady who turns to violence, Field was shown as drawing great reserves of strength in spite of her initial weakness, or even uselessness, but this lower class bad guy who lives in a neighbourhood where rap and Latino music is pumped out on the streets was every one of her kind's worst nightmare: uncouth, disrespectful and disruptive, and that's before we were faced with his predilection for rape and murder of innocent women. Sure, there are some nasty people out there, but the fact that Karen is debasing and corrupting herself by turning to crime as well was only glancingly considered.
It was the sheen of supposed respectability that stuck in the craw about Eye for an Eye: if it had been a trashy thriller about bereaved victims of lawbreaking ganging together to mete out their own brand of bloodthirsty justice, it would have been a lot easier to take as it would have plainly been a fantasy, but the script here took it upon itself to claim to be speaking up for all those who believed in the death penalty. Worse than that, as it was nobody in the legal profession or police work who was making those claims, it was a bunch of hacks placing the meek Field in the role of a champion of pulling the trigger herself, when the majority of crimes were not so cut and dried: we see a clip of the O.J. Simpson trial on television that insultingly posits this as a serious piece of discussion when it was actually exploiting the worst impulses of the audience in the name of edutainment. We cheer when the slasher movie villain is killed by the final girl because it's supposed to be cathartic: Karen would in real life, if that's what this wanted to depict, be a shell of a woman had she turned to murder. Music by James Newton Howard.