Austrian director Norbert Meisel helmed his fifth feature-length film in 1985. Starring Robert Forster (Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Tarantino’s 1997 movie Jackie Brown) as the male protagonist, Meisel’s wife Nancy Kwan as the female lead and Joe Spinell in the role of the main antagonist, Walking the Edge is a thrilling and well-paced revenge film that manages to walk a fine line between violence-ridden sequences inherent to the genre and character-driven storytelling. With a screenplay written by Curt Allen, Meisel’s movie starts off by placing us squarely in the thick of it. Gang leader Brusstar (Joe Spinell) and his posse hold Christine Holloway (Nancy Kwan) and her young son Danny (Doug Toby) at gunpoint in their own home, while waiting for the pater familias to return from work. Perplexed as to why they are being targeted to begin with, Christine is nowhere near prepared for the ugly truth she will be forced to swallow—her husband is a drug dealer whose day of reckoning has arrived. She manages to escape, but both her husband and her son end up getting the short end of the stick.

After letting us know that Christine had successfully eluded her captors, the film proceeds with introducing us to Robert Forster’s Jason Walk, a former baseball player and current L.A. taxi driver, numbers runner and debt collector. But Jason has a tendency to favor avoiding conflict over standing up for himself and setting clear personal boundaries, which affects his life in more ways than one. Not only does he find his partner cheating on him, but he also faces financial repercussions for not being persistent enough with gambling debtors. And when his and Christine’s paths cross, him being a pushover ultimately cements his fate, informing every decision he is about to make.

When the widow asks for a cab ride, we are not yet made aware of how much time had passed between the opening sequence and this serendipitous encounter, and Jason is certainly in the dark regarding the events that are about to transpire. He does not know that what he thinks is going to be a regular cab ride will turn into a blood bath soon enough. Unawares, he drives Christine to her first victim where we will be surprised to find out what exactly happened in the avenger’s life from the moment she escaped the clutches of the Grim Reaper. Unfortunately for both of them, Christine does not succeed in her initial attempt to assassinate all of those responsible for the death of her family members, meaning that the poor woman and her taxi driver are now on the gang members’ kill list.

Jason could have walked away and let Christine deal with the mess she found herself in. But he did not. As he aids and abets her by allowing her to stay at his place, two things start happening simultaneously—he develops feelings for the vigilante and begins growing a backbone, trying not taking “no” for an answer on for size. Much to his surprise, setting boundaries and claiming what is rightfully his becomes him, proving that asserting oneself goes a long way. There is great subtlety and vulnerability in Robert Forster’s performance, the progression of his character being an absolutely believable depiction of what happens when a person allows their limits to be tested to the extreme. It is all too easy to sympathize with this seemingly nonviolent, overtly masculine man who would rather stay on the sidelines if that meant not rustling any feathers and, by extension, getting out of harm’s way. Therefore, it becomes devastating to witness all the ways in which his buttons are constantly being pushed, until he eventually snaps—and quite understandably so.

When we first meet him, it could be argued that Jason is nowhere near the proverbial edge, despite the illicit nature of his jobs. His mild-tempered nature forbids him from leaving Christine hanging, which in turn leads to him beginning to walk the edge. As the movie poster’s tagline suggests, it is only after he stopped doing so that “all hell broke loose”. And the moment he went over was an intense one indeed, for the antagonists found his Achilles heel and gleefully went after it, unaware of the fact that their violent actions would ultimately lead to their untimely demise. The emotional blow that Jason was dealt had to be a hard one, and what better way of pushing someone over the edge than destroying something the protagonist deeply cares for, something that can never be replicated or replaced, thereby making Jason’s character arc exceptionally believable.

The character’s temperament impacts his choices that drive the plot forward, which in turn affects the character’s temperament, which then drives the plot even further. But Walking the Edge would not be a revenge film if it were all just character development and dialogue (Meisel said that he allowed his actors to somewhat improvise, and it paid off). There is a fair share of bloodshed and unspeakable violence performed, yet it is not self-serving, meaning that it never comes at the expense of the story, but rather serves as a justification for why the characters end up taking the roads they take. Made on a small budget and shot in only two weeks’ time, Walking the Edge is an intense and well-thought-out revenge movie that should not be missed.

Meisel’s film is out on Blu-Ray as part of Fun City Editions, Vinegar Syndrome’s new partner label, dedicated to designing deluxe home video editions of timeless films whose value is not bound to the time period of their initial release.

Koraljka Suton is a member of the Croatian Society of Film Critics and has a master’s degree in German and English. For her thesis, she did a comparative analysis of Spielberg’s ‘Band of Brothers’ and ‘The Pacific’. Koraljka trained at a Zagreb-based acting studio for six years and fell in love with Michael Chekhov and Lee Strasberg’s acting techniques. She is also a contemporary dancer and a Reiki master who believes in the transformative quality of art.