By Richard Winters
My Rating: 3 out of 10
4-Word Review: Killing caught on film.
Herbert G. Rucker (Michael Moriarty) is a cop with a chip on his shoulder. Having been recently demoted due to a infractions violation he angrily goes about his foot patrol shift on the streets of Kansas City quietly brooding over his feelings of being unfairly wronged. He then chases after a black man who’s stolen a lady’s purse. When he catches up with him in a lonely, back alley he decides to shoot the man despite the fact that he didn’t resist. Unbeknownst to him Lamont (Eric Laneuville), a high school student and amateur filmmaker, caught it on his camera through the back window of his apartment’s fire escape, which was several stories up. While Herbert thinks there are no witnesses and thus will not be caught he instead learns that he’s being charged for murder, but Lamont’s identity is being kept a secret for his own protection until the trial begins. In the meantime Herbert goes hunting for him even though he’s not sure who it is while Lamont continues to follow Herbert secretly recording, both with his camera and tape recorder, everything Herbert does, which leads to him uncovering even more crimes that he admits to.
This film is very similar to Deadly Hero, which came out a year after this one and had the same theme of a cop abusing his authority and inexplicably killing a black man while hoping, even expecting, to get away with it. While that film wasn’t perfect it still fared better than this one. Both films worked off of the public’s growing mistrust of the police departments and some of the inner racism that was on the force. That movie though had much better tension that consistently built-up while this one has long, boring segments that doesn’t feel like it’s propelling the plot. I liked the idea of showing the antagonist in a non-stereotype way where he wasn’t just this one-dimensional sociopath, but instead portrayed as someone with a very low self-esteem who doesn’t feel like he makes much of a difference and kills the other man simply as a way to have empowerment over someone else. The approach though is too leisurely with too many scenes filled with extraneous dialogue and scenery, like having Herbert attend a wedding and even visit a zoo, which aren’t compelling.
I initially thought that the casting of Moriarty was a good thing as his erratic and sometimes bizarre behavior behind-the-scenes on many of the productions that he’s worked on, both for film, television, and stage, that has essentially gotten him blacklisted and deemed too difficult to work with. I was hoping he would channel this inner craziness into his character, but instead he gives a flat performance. We see Herbert’s beaten down side, but never the hidden anger making his time in front of the camera dull and not riveting.
Sorvino as the prosecuting attorney and Earl Hindman as Herbert’s partying friend convey a lot more energy and therefore more fun to watch. Laneuville though fares best as his scenes help move the plot along while Moriarty’s moments make it feel like it’s stagnating. I was disappointed too that there’s no ultimate confrontation between them and Lamont’s ability to follow Herbert around without getting detected seemed dubious as most cops acquire a keen sense of awareness with their immediate surroundings through the dangerous nature of their job and thus I’d think he’d pick up on the fact that he was being followed/monitored much sooner than he does.
The twist at the end has the victim’s brother shooting the tires of a car that Herbert’s driving, all from a tip given to him from Lamont, which sends Herbert’s car careening out-of-control and eventually killing him. This was ‘street justice’ due to their belief that Herbert would never have been convicted. This though needed to be shown and not just presumed. Seeing a judge or jury acquit Herbert despite the ample evidence would’ve been more impactful. The added trial scenes would’ve also made the script more compact with the boring moments trimmed down. If the killer was indeed going to be acquitted anyways because the jury system is rigged and so he later on gets shot at while driving, is fine, but a court room battle was needed either way.
My Rating: 3 out of 10
Released: August 4, 1974
Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes
Director: Dennis McGuire
Available: VHS, DVD-R