Cinema by Clive Fisher
WONDER how many new cruits to the police force are fluenced by police drama, one ' television's favourite genres. here must surely be many Ecers, now hardened by the nely tedium of the beat, the nbittered sighs of breathylised otorists, the sheer sordidness the criminal underworld, who nce eagerly envisaged .ofessional lives which made he Sweeney look staid and hich even took the thrill out of ixon of Dock Green. The genre essentially of television's vention.
Cinema, particularly in merica, has observed the world crime with rapt fascination )r 50 years, but has tended to o so through the eyes of rival msters, in the 30s, or the mical street-wisdom of private ,tectives in film-noir of the 50s. he police themselves tended to of secondary importance.
In the last 20 years, however, while cinema has lost much of its audience permanently to television, it has borrowed many of the latter's obsessions, among them the fight against crime. The latest offering from the cinema of glamourised law enforcement, designed to put ideas into the innocent heads of potential police officers, is Someone To Watch Over Me (Leicester Sq. Theatre, '15').
To say that this film follows in a tradition is to put things mildly, drawing as it does, without hint of apology, on every conceivable cliche (though here I ask myself by what right one demands originality in popular entertainment). Mike Keegan (Tom Berenger) is a happily-married detective from Queens. The noisy tenor of his way is disturbed when he is assigned to protect a witness, Claire (Mimi Rogers) to the murder with which the film begins.
Mike's wife (Lorraine Bracco) looks, from a distance, like a poor man's Audrey Hepburn. Mike is a poor man, which is why he lives in noisy Queens and why he is bowled over by calm Claire. Director Ridley Scott has their affair serenaded by the aria from La Wally which British Airways currently uses to advertise its Club Class flights.
Claire, however, follows Noel Coward in her determination to travel through life first class. We are clearly expected to be as impressed as Mike (and Ridley Scott) by her huge Manhattan flat, her minks, her limousines; for Mike, as for all Americans, Money equals class, and Claire has plenty of both.
Someone to Watch Over Me, with a cop falling in love with a witness who also comes from a more exalted background therefore conflates two recent, successful ventures, Witness and Year of the Dragon. Scott tries to conceal his impoverished scheme (why the original murder? What are his impossibly villainous-looking criminal's motives?) by deafening us with an eclectic soundtrack and by trying to excite our faculties of envy.
If this film is really "about" anything, its concerns are most fashionable: the glories of wealth and its trappings, the perils of abandoning family life. Mediocrity is infectious: not even Tom Berenger, so good in The Big Chill and Platoon, can redeem this glossy catalogue.
"You knew when you sat down that it was going to be a matter of wills," says Albert Finney to Matthew Modine in Orphans (Cannon, Haymarket,
'15'). In a sense, his comment summarises one's own expectations of this production, for films based on plays rely largely for their dynamic on the claustrophobia generated by two strong-willed characters in conflict.
Lyle Kessler's play describes a somewhat improbable situation. Two orphaned brothers (Matthew Modine and Kevin Anderson) live in a large, semiderelict house on the edge of Newark (somewhere in America). Treat (Modine) supports them by petty theft; Phillip (Anderson) never ventures out of the house, owing to some imaginary allergy to fresh air, and teaches himself to # read.
A Chicago ganster, Harold (Albert Finney) appears. Through strength of character and worldly wisdom he teaches the boys independence, mutual respect, pride and selfdiscipline: what looked like being a cry against so much that is desperate in human existence is transformed into a moral, and predictable, fairy-story.
Excellent though all the acting is, I found that sustained interest escaped me until the appearance of Finney, whose performance is authoritative: deftly comic, controlled, ironic. But I could not see that the film amounted to much beyond being a vehicle for virtuoso concerted acting; and at that, the sort of acting best witnessed in the tense incubator of a small theatre.
Nor was I wooed into suspension of disbelief. What were Harold's crimes? Why did no persons, legal or illegal, call at the house?
This, by the way, is probably the list him where Modine is denied star-billing.