Mistrial (1996, directed by Heywood Gould)


When a NYPD cop and her partner are murdered, overworked and stressed-out Detective Steve Donohue (Bill Pullman) follows a trail of circumstantial evidence that leads him to the door of the cop’s ex-husband, a community activist named Eddie Rios (Jon Seda).  Donohue’s attempt to arrest Rios goes terribly wrong and results in a shootout that leaves Rios’s second wife and bother dead before the handcuffs are eventually slapped on his wrists.

Rios may be the one on trial but Donohue is now the one facing judgment.  With protesters lined up outside the courthouse and the city’s mayor (James Rebhorn) more interested in his own reelection than in the pursuit of justice, Donohue knows that the only way he’ll be vindicated is if Eddie Rios is convicted.  Unfortunately, that’s not what happens.  Rios’s sleazy attorney (played by Josef Sommer) gets most of the evidence tossed out of court on a technicality and it appears that Rios is going to walk free.  That’s when Donohue decides to take the court itself hostage, pulls out a gun, and demands that Rios immediately be put on trial for a second time, with the jury hearing all of the evidence that was originally thrown out of court.

Mistrial is an example of the good-cop-pushed-over-the-edge genre.  Up until a few years ago, this was a very popular genre.  Today, of course, it feels tone deaf and it’s a lot more difficult to sympathize with a cop, even a fictional one, complaining about being restricted by the constitution.  The main problem with Mistrial is that it’s established early on that Eddie Ramos is guilty so there’s no real tension as to whether Donohue is doing the right thing by demanding a second trial.  If there had been some ambiguity about whether or not Ramos was the murderer that Donohue claims he is, it would have made the film much more interesting and less predictable.  The other problem is that Bill Pullman is just too naturally earnest and clean-cut to be convincing as an overworked cop who has been pushed into doing something crazy.  Remembering back to the 90s, I think someone like Gary Sinise or William L. Petersen could have pulled off the role but Pullman’s just not right for it.

Robert Loggia has a few good moments as Pullman’s sympathetic captain.  This was the 2nd time that Pullman and Loggia co-starred together.  The first time was in Independence Day.  The 3rd time would be in Lost Highway, a film that’s as different from Mistrial as day is from night.

One response to “Mistrial (1996, directed by Heywood Gould)

  1. Pingback: Lisa’s Week In Review: 7/6/20 — 7/12/20 | Through the Shattered Lens

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