When an undercover narcotics operation goes wrong, a veteran cop (Charles Haid) is killed. While the cop’s killer goes on trial, the members of the undercover squad struggle to deal with their feelings about what has happened. The head of the squad (James Farentino) struggles with how much emotion he can show while still remaining a leader. As his ex-wife puts it, he’s so busy staying strong for everyone else that he hasn’t been able to deal with his emotions. Meanwhile, the dead cop’s partner (Steve Weber) has the opposite problem and starts to take dangerous risks on the job. When it looks like the killer might get a plea deal from the district attorney, both Farentino and Weber are forced to come to terms with Haid’s death and their own feelings of anger and guilt.
In the early 90s, there was several “In the Line of Duty” films made for NBC. They were all based (often loosely) on true stories and they dealt with members of the law enforcement who died while on the job. The best known of these was probably Ambush in Waco, which went into production while the Branch Davidian siege was still ongoing.
A Cop For The Killing was the second of the In The Line of Duty films. Unlike the later films in the series, it didn’t deal with a nationally-known case. Instead, it just focused on one squad of cops and how the death of a member of the squad effected them. With its ensemble of familiar television actors and Dick Lowry’s efficient but not particularly splashy direction, it feels more like a pilot than an actual movie. Even though this film features the cops opening up about their feelings, there’s not much to distinguish it from other cop shows of the period. If someone digitally replaced Steven Weber with Fred Dryer, it would be easy to mistake A Cop For The Killing for a two-hour episode of Hunter. As with all of the In The Line of Duty films, there are a few scenes designed to show the comradery of the members of the squad but it again all feels too familiar to be effective. Before Charles Haid dies, he and Steven Weber hang out at a bar and wrestle. After Haid dies, Weber hangs out at a strip club that’s safe for prime time. Judging from 90s television cop shows, undercover detectives were solely responsible for keeping most strip clubs profitable.
The cast is adequate. Farentino is believable as the emotionally withdrawn commander. Charles Haid makes the most of his limited screen time. Tony Plana plays a smug drug lord who smiles even when he’s being booked. It takes a while to adjust to Steven Weber playing a serious role but his courtroom meltdown is the movie’s highlight. In The Line of Duty: A Cop For The Killing may not have led to a television series featuring Farentino and Weber taking down the bad guys but it did lead to another In The Line of Duty movie that I will take a look at tomorrow.