In The Line Of Duty: Street War
Another of director Dick Lowry’s ITLOD series of torn-from-the-headlines crime dramas, this time about a housing cop caught up in a dangerous drugs gang turf war in Brooklyn. Mario Van Peebles (Heartbreak Ridge), Michael Boatman (Spin City), Courtney B Vance (Law & Order), Morris Chestnut (Boyz N The Hood), Ray Sharkey (Wiseguy) and Peter Boyle (Taxi Driver) star.
Surviving The Game
Pretty effective genre piece from longtime Spike Lee DP Ernest Dickerson, based on Richard Collier’s oft-shot short story ‘The Most Dangerous Game’. Homeless Seattle mechanic Ice T is recruited by local do-gooder Charles Dutton to a well-paid job as a safari guide – only to discover that not all is as it seems. Rutger Hauer is creepy as hell as Dutton’s business partner, whilst Gary Busey goes full lunatic as an ex-CIA psychologist client of the pair, with recently bereaved oil tycoon John C McGinley, Wall Street executive F Murray Abraham, and his wide-eyed son William McNamara rounding out the hunting party.
Imaginatively shot, with some great long takes holding onto the actors’ faces during dialogue heavy scenes, and zesty use of Dutch angles once the action starts moving along. Hardly groundbreaking, but definitely watchable nonsense, sort of a Hollywood class war companion piece to The People Under The Stairs.
Peerless work from Sidney Lumet, which feels at times like an adaptation of a weighty stage play but which was an original screen story written by Ray Rigby, about a military stockade in North Africa for recalcitrant British soldiers during the Second World War.
Cast-wise you have Sean Connery as a busted-down-to-the-ranks former Sergeant Major Joe Roberts, Ossie Davis as Jacko King, a Commonwealth soldier caught nicking booze from an officers’ mess, rowdy brawler McGrath (Jack Watson), recidivist spiv Bartlett (Roy Kinnear), and sensitive rear echelon clerk Stevens (Alfred Lynch), whose crime was to go AWOL in a doomed attempt to get back to his pregnant wife. Then there’s Norman Bird as the camp commandant, and Michael Redgrave as the medical officer: the pair are nominally in charge of the stockade, but in reality they have ceded all authority to their RSM Bert Wilson (Harry Andrews), who has a very unforgiving and straightforward philosphy of break-‘em-down-then-build-‘em-up. He in turn controls the Staff Sergeants, who manage the camp from day to day, from reveille to lights-out, taking in copious amounts of PT and parades, and most of all gruelling trips up and down ‘the hill’, a man-made mound of stone and sand, over which squaddies under punishment must run, in full pack and under the hot sun.
Authority and power – that’s the key territory here – authority and power and the struggle for it. Wilson sees himself as firm but fair, but beneath him he has constructed a corrupt regime of favours and brutality, while above him he neutralises his superiors through blandishments and blackmail. Into this febrile atmosphere enters new Staff Williams (Ian Hendry), a career prison officer back home – a man of cruelty and pride and sadism. Whilst Wilson sees it as his mission to break Roberts, a man of equivalent status and similar values (both are career soldiers) for what he sees as his betrayal – Roberts is in for ‘cowardice’ after striking his officer and refusing to take his men into action on a suicidal mission – so Williams latches on to weak link Stevens. Meanwhile there is a more sympathetic Staff, Harris (Ian Bannen), who in his own creepy way tries to protect Stevens and the others, but whose methods of doing so only show him to be as complicit in his own way, until…
Bad shit happens. Then worse shit. Then… Well, its one of the most powerful English language war films of the 1960s, and it’s not really about war. It’s about life, and masculinity, and class, and the tension between the individual and the group, and the human need for socialised activities and comfort and mutual support, yet also about the temptations of preying on the weak, of isolating and punishing them for little reason more than it can be done.
Stunningly filmed. It’s in black and white, yet the screen bare drips with sweat it feels so hot. The first quarter or so of the film is entirely played out in real time. There’s a supremely confident crane shot that opens the film, showing us the whole camp, establishing the terrain and the environment, and then the principal characters, and most of all, placing the hill itself into context. I’m surprised it’s so little remarked upon, as it is definitely up there with A Touch Of Evil or the nightclub long take in Goodfellas – so much going on, so many extras choreographed together, movement, scope, depth… Then there’s the editing – much faster cutting, back and forth, back and forth, than most films of the era. The framing, stupendous, as is the blocking, and the changing use of lenses to develop the visual palette as the narrative progresses. And finally, the use of a very mobile camera, pre-steadicam, adding tension to scenes and maintaining momentum, keeping the audience in there in the middle of the action, letting the actors do their work. Talking of actors, Andrews gives an immense performance.
The Second Civil War
Rather lame Joe Dante TVM for HBO which actually has a pretty interesting starting point: a near future America governed by narcissists and demagogues and idiots and propagandists, and reflected upon by scoop-hungry rolling news networks. Phil Hartman is an idiot US President getting into a spat with Idaho Governor Beau Bridges over immigration issues. With Elizabeth Peña, Dan Hedaya, James Coburn, Ron Perlman, Denis Leary, James Earl Jones, Kevin Dunn and others. Obligatory Dick Miller moment: he’s a jaded veteran cameraman.
So-so adaptation of Dave Stevens’ 30s/40s serial-influenced comic strip about a barnstorming pilot (Bill Campbell) who comes into possession of a prototype rocket pack developed by Howard Hughes which is sought by dastardly Nazi spies on the cusp of World War Two. Jennifer Connelly is his sweetheart, Timothy Dalton an Errol Flynn-like movie actor, and a bunch of other people are all equally proficient if hardly exciting. Directed by Joe Johnston.