"Down these mean streets"
Hardboiled crime melodrama has been an enduring American genre this century, not only in literature but also in the movies. One of the main themes of this genre is the corruption of modern society, within the lowest dregs of society and the highest. It takes a rare artist to rise above the inherent sordid quality of such material, especially in today’s R-rated world. That is why the greatest of the artists in this genre remains novelist Raymond Chandler, who died almost 40 years ago. Chandler not only wrote in a poetic, often lyrical style, he also produced a true hero in his novels, a detective named Phillip Marlowe. Despite a cynical attitude, Marlowe usually rose above the corruption around him. His vivid character gave Chandler’s fiction a human decency and a moral center that was quite positive, though it was not specifically Christian or biblical.
There are still a few heroes in today’s crime fiction, as movies like DIE HARD and THE NEGOTIATOR show, but the violence, sexual immorality and foul language has increased so much that the heroism in these movies is often problematic and diluted. This is especially true if the hero defeats the villain purely out of revenge or other selfish motives. Worst of all, though, are the new neo-noir crime movies where the protagonist has few or even no redeeming heroic qualities, and the movie seems to be one long slide into degradation. Such was the case with a movie called PHOENIX which hit and left Los Angeles recently.
Unlike PHOENIX, the movie ONE TOUGH COP does try to rise above the corruption it explores. It has a truly sympathetic hero with a solid code of honor and, in that sense, hearkens back to the crime fiction of Raymond Chandler.
Inspired by the autobiography of a controversial New York cop, ONE TOUGH COP focuses on the true crime investigation of Detective Bo Dietl and his partner Duke into a savage rape/mutilation of a nun in East Harlem in 1981. Complicating their investigation is the fact that the FBI is itself investigating Bo for his childhood friendship with a leading gangster, who helps Bo find an informant that will lead him to the perpetrators. Also, Bo’s partner is addicted to gambling and owes big money to one of the gangster’s associates. In effect, this story gives ONE TOUGH COP two emotional focal points to hold the interest of the audience.
Shot crisply in color, ONE TOUGH COP features an excellent performance by Stephen Baldwin as Detective Bo Dietl. Baldwin imbues Dietl with a compassionate, friendly quality that brings the hard-working policeman to life. Despite his friendship with the gangster and some moral ambiguity, Dietl remains an honest policeman who desires to protect the weak from the strong. Regrettably, however, Mike McGlone as the gangster is not quite up to the task. His performance lacks the believable intensity of Baldwin’s. This makes the plot involving him psychologically weak, in spite of an exciting finish.
Otherwise, ONE TOUGH COP is a typical R-rated crime thriller, in that it contains lots of foul language and some implied sexual immorality, but no graphic sex or nudity. Thus, despite its mostly honorable hero, the movie is not the complete throwback to a better age that MOVIEGUIDE readers would like to see. Some day, Hollywood may give us another exciting crime melodrama that is rated PG or even G, but that day is still a long way off.
(B, LLL, VV, S, N, A, D, M) Light moral worldview of a basically honest policeman battling corruption; 138 obscenities, 8 profanities & 13 vulgarities; man holds daughter hostage, implied rape, images of cuts on body, man murders cop, cops shove & push each other, man breaks other man's nose on bar table, cops threaten & punch possible informant, two shootouts between cops & criminals, & implied suicide; implied fornication & adultery, & couple kiss in bed; implied nudity; alcohol use & drunkenness; smoking; and, gambling & other policemen lie about case to take credit for hero's success.