"That's not fair!" Throughout life, one can hear these three small words railing against an offense foisted upon them by an uncaring world. However, seldom does one ask "What is fair?" In Steven Seagal's Out For Justice, NYPD detective Gino Felino spends a night pursuing Richie Madano, a criminal who shot his partner and best friend Bobby Lupo, while contemplating the nature of justice, loyalty, and social responsibility.
As the title suggests, Felino spends much of his evening considering what the most just course of action should be. Through his care for the abandoned puppy, his dealings with the Brooklyn mob, and his level playing field approach toward Madano and his henchmen, Felino demonstrates that true justice should involve a consensus-based approach that gives the accused a chance to defend themselves but places highest priority on protecting the innocent. Before he begins his search for Madano, Felino checks in with the Brooklyn mob to find out their take on Madano's actions. Felino does not make the error of assuming that Madano's actions were sanctioned by the mob, and thus spares the neighborhood a gruesome all-out gang war. Instead, Felino and Don Vittorio come to an uneasy truce that they will work together to bring Madano to justice, be it at the hands of the police or the mob. Felino's actions show that justice is a concept that we are all devoted to, and that no matter how unorthodox the source, all opinions must be accounted for to form a consensus on the proper action.
In the early phase of his search, Felino observes a driver in front of him drop a trash bag out of his car window while driving down the street. Felino stops and opens the bag to find a puppy and immediately decides to adopt it. Felino's new puppy accompanies him for the rest of his manhunt and symbolizes justice's mission to protect the innocent and helpless.
When Felino confronts Madano's men, the criminals often resort to violence. During these scenes, Felino only goes for a deathblow if an innocent is at risk, and, whenever possible, avoids using his hand gun. If the criminal is unarmed, Felino frequently unloads his gun and throws it away, using only as much force as necessary to apprehend the suspect. Felino's approach toward enforcement shows his belief that Justice should not use excessive force, regardless of how personally involved one is in the crime.
In addition to his external conflict with Madano, Felino undergoes an intense internal conflict regarding his personal loyalties. Through the night, Felino must balance his often contradictory loyalties in order to take the correct action. Felino's loyalty to his family is immediately called into question, as his only visitation weekend with his son for months is interrupted by his superior's call. Felino, Lupo, and Madano are all from the same neighborhood, which is run by Don Vittorio. Loyalty to the 'hood runs high, and Felino walks a fine line between protecting his neighbors and persecuting anyone involved with Madano, a group that includes most of his friends. Felino's father died when he was young, and we learn that Madano's father took Felino under his wing to help raise him. By dealing with the mob, Felino's dedication to the police force and proper investigative techniques is called into question. When Felino learns that Lupo was dirty and having an affair, he must question whether his friend's killing was in itself an act of justice, throwing him deeper into his existential crisis.
Finally, Out For Justice explores and shakes up the very foundation of the concept of social responsibility. Felino's neighborhood is an urban Grover's Corners: everyone knows everyone else's affairs, and the audience is led to believe that few people leave the area after entering adulthood. In this community, it is the mob, not the police, church, or any civic organization, that most serves the community. All of the businesses are mob businesses. Males are expected to join the Family upon adulthood similar to how generals' sons are expected to join the military. Felino remarks to a childhood friend who is now a mob lieutenant, "Who woulda thought, huh? Me, becoming a cop?" commenting on the singular oddity of his career choice. Italian is the language of choice on the streets. Felino, acutely aware that his actions are outside the accepted support structure of the community, tailors his actions to fit his surroundings, thus blending the traditional role of law enforcement with the local expectations of law enforcement. By contrasting the effectiveness of the mob and the apathy of the non-Felino police, Out For Justice suggests the radical notion that the public would be better served by a private, localized force than a city-wide bureaucracy.
In conclusion, through his night-long manhunt, Felino provides the audience insight into the application and meaning of justice by examing and centering his own biases and loyalties. Like Felino, all of us are out for justice, and from his experience we can learn that True Justice can only be accomplished through a thoughtful consensus and a means that all involved parties are comfortable with.