FIGHTING BACK, Tom Skerritt, 1982. ©Paramount Pictures

Revisiting Fighting Back (1982) with Tom Skerritt

Plot: An Italian delicatessen owner in south Philadelphia can no longer tolerate seeing his friends terrorized by local hoodlums. So he forms a neighborhood watch group to right the situation. However, his good intentions are soon overshadowed by his growing love of publicity, and by the vigilantism of the group, who favor beating up the offenders rather than calling the police. When the police and the vigilantes confront each other, a television news team is there to cover the story.

Tom Skerritt does his best Charles Bronson impersonation in this entertaining Death Wish clone (also known as Death Vengeance); Tom of course has the moustache and admittedly he does give more of a performance than Bronson, but I found Paul Kersey a far more sympathetic character than John D’Angelo.

Skerritt plays John as a hothead who is frustratingly stubborn however, after his mother is brutally attacked by robbers you are on his side… at least for a while. His methods get more vicious and he becomes quite arrogant. I was waiting for a scene where he would get attacked by a group of thugs and learn some kind of a lesson, but instead he never seems to suffer any major repercussions for his actions and by the end he even gets elected to office.

Like Death Wish, Fighting Back asks the moral question of whether vigilantism makes you as bad as the criminals however, this explores things a little more with Yaphet Kotto’s Ivanhoe Washington thinking John is only attacking the black community. It suggests that working together as a community can help to combat crime and help to build better neighbourhoods however, you could argue that it also seems to say that vigilantism works.

Directed by Lewis Teague (Cujo, Navy Seals) Fighting Back is well paced and doesn’t go too long between action scenes; we get an awesome bar fight when John and his crew throw their weight around with the barman played by Walter Hill regular Allan Graf. The fights feel gritty and real with the violence unflinching; the scene with John’s mother getting her finger cut off was brutal, so you understand why he’s so mad.

It’s a rousing tale and Tom Skerritt gives an under-appreciated performance as do the rest of the cast making it a perfect double bill with Death Wish. Despite him being rather arrogant it’s hard not to cheer on John and the crew as they clean up the streets.

Overall, Fighting Back AKA Death Vengeance is an entertaining vigilante tale that asks similar moral questions to Death Wish but is suitably different with an excellent performance from Tom Skerritt and enough action and fights to keep genre fans entertained.