Reviewed by: Brett Willis
Starring: Kurt Russell, Scott Speedman, Ving Rhames, Brendan Gleeson, Lolita Davidovich, Michael Michele, Kurupt, Dash Mihok | Directed by: Ron Shelton | Produced by: David Blocker, Caldecot Chubb, Sean Daniel, James Jacks | Written by: David Ayer, from a story by James Ellroy | Distributor: MGM/United Artists
This film was MPAA rated in 2001 (meaning it was already in final cut stage) and officially released in 2002, but didn’t go into general theatrical release until February 2003. Perhaps the feeling was that after the Twin Towers attacks, the producers should wait awhile before releasing inflammatory fiction that could break up our common front against an external enemy and turn ethnic groups within against each other. Which of course begs the question… why ever release such material? I have a soft spot—softer than I should have, perhaps—for gritty cop stories; but this one is too much.
Set during the April 1992 trial of the four white officers accused of beating black motorist Rodney King, it follows Detective Sergeant Eldon Perry (Kurt Russell) of the LAPD Special Investigations Section as he breaks in new recruit Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman). Keough is the nephew of department higher-up Jack Van Meter (Brendan Gleeson) who manages to make it through his first “shooting inquiry board” only to be returned to active duty. Problem is, both he and Perry were lying about what really happened. We’re also treated early in the film to the robbery of a Korean-owned convenience store by a pair of hooded lowlifes named Orchard and Sidwell (Kurupt and Dash Mihok), one black, the other white. During the course of the robbery, they murder several innocent people, and it occurs to us that with these kind of menaces on the street, perhaps the police do need to be tough in order to protect us. But then, we learn that the police were involved in setting up the robbery.
The film doesn’t get any better from this point on. There’s a good ol’ boy network in the SIS that takes care of its own. Officers use sexual blackmail against another officer and against a D.A. in order to get their way. Perry and others like him are obviously racists, and although they (well, most of them) don’t believe in harming truly innocent people, they have no problem with arresting crooks for crimes other than the ones they committed, or with killing them while they’re unarmed.
We search in vain for some truly upright person in the cast to identify with unreservedly. The closest we can come are Deputy Chief Holland (Ving Rhames) and his assistant Sgt. Beth Williamson (Michael Michele), both of whom want to put a stop to the heavy-handed tactics of the SIS. Or maybe we can sympthize with Perry’s long-suffering wife Sally (Lolita Davidovich). But they all have their faults too. So for the viewer, it becomes an exercise in trying to identify the least offensive character.
Strong language is pervasive; there are over 120 uses of f* and hundreds of other curses, profanities, vulgarities and racial slurs. There’s implied nonmarital sex under the sheets, some partial nudity at an exotic dance club, and a view of a nude dismembered body stuffed into a refrigerator. Several people are killed, often with bloody results. We see both actual archive footage and re-enactments of the riots that followed the Rodney King verdicts. Perry not only symbolically represents the King defendants; his remarks about planting and fabricating evidence are designed to associate him O.J. Simpson investigator, Mark Fuhrman.
Although the real-life SIS has been charged with numerous abuses both before and after 1992, I’ve found no charges that come close to the tactics of Perry and Van Meter in this film. In short, it appears the writers have taken a serious issue and portrayed it as even worse than it really is, thus potentially widening the rifts between blacks and whites and between police and public for no worthwhile purpose. This makes the film very dangerous. I see no redeeming quality in it, and don’t recommend it to anyone.
(For a deeper understanding of the fallacy of racism and how, according to the Bible, all races come from Noah and his three sons, click here.)Year of Release—2003