When Robert Forster passed, the tragedy was compounded by the fact that he never quite to shine the way other actors do. His career revival, when Quentin Tarantino cast him in “Jackie Brown” in a rare leading man role (an even rarer leading man role for a guy over 50 playing a guy over 50), happened two decades ago, and lead only to him playing more character parts in frequently lamentable movies. Not that he ever gave less than his best. To hear Forster talk about his work, you’d think he was the best rated contractor in town—just a guy who showed up with his toolkit and left you with a full, functioning, beautiful, sturdy house.
As big a fan as I am of his poignant later work, my favorite period of Forster’s is his ’80s period, when he played downcast, slightly sleazy dudes on missions of mercy. I love his depressive hero shtick in “Alligator,” the way he never once lets on that he’s doing more than the job of city cop requires, even as he’s trying to blow up a 30-foot reptile terrorizing his city. But his work in William Lustig’s “Vigilante” catapulted it into the upper echelon of late grindhouse.
Even though “Maniac Cop 2” is Lustig’s masterpiece, “Vigilante” is Lustig’s most soulful work—a “Death Wish” remake with an actual moral underpinning, asking questions of its violent world and characters every step of the way. If not for an everyman type like Forster in the role, the film would slip off balance. With him in the role, it became a classic.