by Jack Sommersby
Opened to good reviews and decent box-office revenue, though it deserves to be seen by a lot more moviegoers tired of substandard American thrillers.In the fascinating police thriller Internal Affairs, Richard Gere gives a mesmerizing performance as Dennis Peck, a veteran Los Angeles street cop both exceedingly charming and quintessentially corrupt. He indulges in bribes, racketeering, money laundering, and even hires himself out as a hit man for high five-figures paydays; he puts his three ex-wives and eight children up in half-million-dollar homes and drops by with fat envelopes of cash every month; and because he's one of the most productive officers on the force, all of the men respect him, especially the ones Dennis has gotten moonlighting security jobs at the Galleria because he's friendly with the head of security. Dennis is on top of everything, and so is Gere, who plays this complete sleazoid charismatically and unapologetically. Gere has been excellent in roles where he was ideally cast (the Navy cadet in An Officer and a Gentleman, the tough Chicago cop in No Mercy) and weak in roles where he was miscast (the title role in King David, the South American physician in Beyond the Limit); here, sporting a gray brush cut and looking amazingly fit, he makes Dennis a villain we love to despise -- Dennis's attractiveness to women is palpable, and he uses his suavity to manipulate those who might mean him harm by seducing their women to keep them off-balance and get valuable information on them he can use. In this bravura villainous turn, never does Gere try to soften Dennis the way a less secure, image-conscious actor would -- this is the best cinematic antagonist since Michael Douglas's Gordon Gekko in Wall Street (a role, incidentally, that Gere was offered and turned down). Dennis has a weak link, though: his young partner, Van Stretch (William Baldwin), a temperamental cokehead who's beaten up three suspects in less than a year, which has caught the attention of the department's Internal Affairs division, whose new officer, the ambitious Raymond Avilla (Andy Garcia), knew Van during their training at the academy. Van has also been habitually beating his wife, Penny (Faye Grant), a bank employee who's been illegally approving fraudulent loans for lavish homes for her and Van and Dennis and his women. With it obvious that Van couldn't be masterminding any of this, Avilla and his partner, Amy Wallace (Laurie Metcalf), suspect Dennis is pulling the strings, and this sets up the central conflict between Dennis and Raymond, both of whom are willing to break the rules along the way to get what they want.
"An Intense, Tantalizing Crime Tale"
If the movie's hero were as forceful as its anti-hero, Internal Affairs could've been a mini-classic. But Garcia, after impressive turns as the drug kingpin in 8 Million Ways to Die and the sharpshooter in The Untouchables, is closed-off, uncommunicative, joyless. He's so intent on being "smolderingly intense" that he's borderline comatose; it's only during his emotional outbursts that he comes alive -- Dennis makes Raymond suspect he's successfully seduced his wife Kathleen (Nancy Travis), and when his Latino machismo is unleashed, it's with a Biblical fury. Luckily, the movie is so phenomenally well-controlled that Garcia isn't enough to derail it. The director is Mike Figgis, a Brit whose previous effort was the low-key London crime tale Stormy Monday; overall, it was slight and undernourished, but it was moodily expressive in its own right, and Internal Affairs is even better. Figgis goes for texture, atmosphere: there's a dreamy allure to the idyllic/menacing contrasts reminiscent of David Lynch's Blue Velvet; with the help of the ace Chinatown cinematographer John A. Alonzo, Figgis gives us blindingly sunny L.A. exteriors that give way to shadowy dark exteriors at night where Dennis slithers around in his patrol car touching bases with his underworld contacts. (Dennis has refused offers of promotion to plain-clothes detective: he likes it on the street, for the action, the graft from the pimps and prostitutes he protects by claiming them as "informants.") Figgis also composed the excellent music score, and with his assured directing and snappy scene transitions, the movie is all of a piece -- though he didn't write the screenplay, Figgis has lucidly "envisioned" it from first scene to last; he gets all the effects he's after. Harry Bean did the script, and as has unfortunately become common in this genre, an initially plausible story eventually gives way to some illogicalities. Dennis gives Raymond a severe, unprovoked beating in a police-station elevator even though anyone could've stumbled upon them. Late in the game, Dennis indulges in kinky sex in the home of a woman whose husband hired him for hit-man duty just so a violent episode can ensue. And the final confrontation requires Dennis to show up at the last conceivable place a truly smart person now wanted by the police would. Still, Bean has penned very good dialogue, and though we'd like to know more about how Dennis acquires all the dirty money that he does, the tail ends of this are satisfying enough. Internal Affairs, despite its shortcomings, is that rare American thriller that actually delivers the goods.Though letterboxed, the DVD is anamorphic and pretty mediocre.
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originally posted: 03/13/14 13:49:31