Above the Law (1988) [1988 Week]

(spoilers ahead!)

Above the Law is a straightforward vigilante movie, which is why I picked it. I mean, it’s called Above the Law! (or Nico, but that isn’t as catchy). I haven’t seen that many Steven Seagal movies in my life because most of them are obviously bad, but this is his first and it’s not that bad really, simply seen as an action movie. It’s not too cynical, the plot is not completely absurd and even the acting is fine. It’s not a great movie but it entertains in its own way.

The movie advertises its vigilante message pretty clearly by showing that all cops are corrupt and worthless. After Nico (Steven Seagal) busts some gangsters with explosives, the “Feds” stop him because supposedly one of the gangsters is undercover. Nico storms out, although the explanation doesn’t sound so wrong. But he is someone who has seen the wrong people using torture in Vietnam, so he is skeptical of all of them. Later, a priest talks to Nico and asks him for a confession. Nico says he has no sins to confess and the priest replies: “Oh yeah. You’re a police officer. You got lot of sins to confess!” That’s the image of the police in this movie.

See, the interesting part about vigilante movies is that they theoretically start in a reasonable place. The law system and police force are flawed and degraded, so there is need for change. But vigilante movies then take the seemingly only path of violence. Once Nico has handed in his badge he is free to beat up and kill criminals because he is, well, above the law now. He takes down four guys with machine guns by threatening them with a gun and later beats them up, destroying a store that belongs to an Indian who is the most stereotypical Indian you could imagine, waving his hands in panic as his store is torn to pieces by the “good” guy.

In the end he is redeemed because a concerned senator wants to hear his story of the corrupted CIA and government. The funny thing is that the last lines of the movie have Nico say off-screen that there are people in the government who manipulate others and do what they want, so they are “above the law.” What a confused message is this in the end? If they ignore the law, the police can ignore the law too? Those last lines are really strange, but what remains is that strong doubt in the government and an equally strong belief in good and evil.