Seagalmania: Out for Justice (1991)

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The John Flynn-directed Out for Justice is one of Steven Seagal’s best films. The 1991 picture actually serves as both an action movie and a deeper examination of one man’s relationship with the streets he attempts to police. Seagal’s protagonist is one of his most interesting and the violence is sudden and brutal, making the best use of his martial arts and weapons training.

Along with Seagal, Out for Justice assembles a pretty damn good cast. It features Jerry Orbach in his pre-Law and Order mode, William Forsythe, Gina Gershon, Julianna Margulies, and Shannon Whirry. Okay, so maybe Shannon Whirry isn’t a “good” actress in a traditional sense, but she does add a certain degree of bounce to the movie.

Seagal is Detective Gino Felino, a hard-nosed cop from Brooklyn. He’s a neighbourhood guy with a lot of connections, having grown up with mobsters and wise guys. When Richie (Forsythe) goes batty on drugs and commences a brutal killing spree that kicks off with the brazen public murder of Gino’s partner and best friend (Joe Spataro), Gino takes matters into his own hands.

With Richie causing havoc throughout Brooklyn, the mob wants to exact its own form of justice against the crazed gangster. This pits Gino in a race against the mafia and reveals the divide between his police-led quest for justice and the mob’s own conception of morality and respect. Gino mows through the underworld on his search for Richie, while the drug-addled villain keeps on keeping on.

There are some interesting sequences in Out for Justice that explore the concept of justice. Seagal’s character doles it out with a shotgun and his martial arts prowess; he’s not above killing Richie and even heads to the gangster’s parents’ home to throw his aggression around. His conception of justice turns him into a bully at times, as he manhandles Richie’s sister (Gershon) and takes his aggression out on bar patrons and lowlifes.

Conversely, the mobsters are shown milling around making deals and having quiet conversations. They do their own form of roughing up the lowlifes eventually, but their tactics appear, at least on the surface, to err on the side of politeness. Richie, for his part, appears to have let almost everyone down and doesn’t have many allies outside of two-bit thugs willing to join his team for a quick buzz and some cash.

Justice is also pursued in ways outside of the main plotline, like with the dog-dumping douchebag. Gino, near the beginning of the film, discovers a “tough guy” tossing a puppy out of his car and rescues the pooch. He asks God to reunite him with the dog-dumper in hopes of exacting revenge on behalf of the puppy. He names the dog and even picks up some food. Of course, he also leaves the dog sitting in a car for most of the movie and amazingly doesn’t have pee-covered seats.

Seagal’s performance is one of the best of his career. Yes, I know that’s not saying much. Some have criticized his come-and-go Italian accent (this is a fair point), but he manages the swagger and full-blooded arrogance well. Obviously the action sequences are on-point; they are some of the most brutal of his career. Keep an eye out for Tattoos (Sonny Hurst), an inked-up thug who gets to spit his teeth out all over a pool table. Good times.

All in all, Out for Justice is a hard-hitting action movie. It has layers that explore the nature of justice in emotionally-charged situations, but it’s still an actioner at its core. Lynn more than delivers on that score and Seagal is up for the task, as always. As for one-liners, try on “The one with nipples you could dial a phone with.”

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