A Movie A Day #304: Code of Silence (1985, directed by Andrew Davis)

It’s life and death in the Windy City.  It’s got Chuck Norris, Henry Silva, Dens Farina, and a robot, too.  It’s Code of Silence.

Chuck plays Eddie Cusack, a tough Chicago policeman who is abandoned by his fellow officers when he refuses to cover for an alcoholic cop who accidentally gunned down a Hispanic teenager and then tried to place a gun on the body.  This the worst time for Cusack to have no backup because a full-scale gang war has just broken out between the Mafia and the Comachos, a Mexican drug gang led by Luis Comacho (Henry Silva).  When a cowardly mobster goes into hiding, Luis targets his daughter, Diana (Molly Hagan).  Determined to end the drug war and protect Diana, Eddie discovers that he may not be able to rely on his brothers in blue but he can always borrow a crime-fighting robot named PROWLER.

Despite the presence of a crime-fighting robot, Code of Silence is a tough, gritty, and realistic crime story.  Though Chuck only gets to show off his martial arts skills in two scenes (and one of those scenes is just Eddie working out in the gym), Code of Silence is still Norris’s best film and his best performance.  The film draws some interesting comparisons between the police’s code of silence and the Mafia’s omerta and director Andrew Davis shows the same flair for action that he showed in The Fugitive and Above the LawCode of Silence‘s highlight is a fight between Chuck and an assassin that takes place on top of a moving train.  Norris did his own stunts so that really is him trying not to fall off that train.

Davis surrounds Norris with familiar Chicago character actors, all of whom contribute to Code of Silence‘s authenticity and make even the smallest roles memorable.  (Keep an eye out for the great John Mahoney, playing the salesman who first introduces the PROWLER.)  Norris’s partner is played by Dennis Farina, who actually was a Chicago cop at the time of filming.  After Code of Silence, Farina quit the force to pursue acting full time and had a busy career as a character actor, playing cops and mobsters in everything from Manhunter to Get Shorty.  As always, Henry Silva is a great villain but the movie is stolen by Molly Hagan, who is feisty and sympathetic as Diana.  To the film’s credit, it doesn’t try to force Eddie and Diana into any sort of contrived romance.

Unfortunately, none of Chuck Norris’s other films never came close to matching the quality of this one.  Code of Silence is a hint of what could have been.

44 Days of Paranoia #36: The Fugitive (dir by Andrew Davis)

For our latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, let’s take a look at the 1993 best picture nominee, The Fugitive.

We’re all familiar with the saying, “You just had to be there.”  We usually hear it as an excuse that’s uttered when a storyteller realizes that his audience isn’t as fascinated by his tale as he is.  It’s a way of assuring us that we would also be fascinated if only we had been present when the story actually took place.

I think the same holds true of a lot of movies.  You simply had to be there when the film was originally released to theaters, before it’s impact could be diluted by repetition and imitation, to understand why that movie was successful or why certain critics continue to speak so fondly of it.

Case in point: The Fugitive.

Based on an old television series, The Fugitive was a huge hit when it was first released in 1993.  It was critically acclaimed, it featured an Oscar-winning supporting performance from Tommy Lee Jones, and the film itself was even nominated for best picture of the year.  The Fugitive is still regularly cited as being one of the best action movies ever made.

And yet, last month, when I watched The Fugitive for the first time, I was left distinctly underwhelmed.

The film opens with Chicago surgeon Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) arriving home and discovers that his wife has been murdered by a one-armed man (Andreas Katsulas).  Kimble struggles with the assailant but the man still manages to escape into the night.  The police don’t believe Kimble’s story and he ends up being arrested and subsequently convicted of his wife’s murder.  It was at this point that I shouted out, “What about DNA!?” but then I remembered that this film was probably made before DNA became a regular part of the criminal justice system.  You just had to be there…

While Kimble is being transported to death row, a fight breaks out that causes the prison bus to crash and gives Kimble a chance to escape.  Kimble is now a fugitive, trying to track down the one-armed man and clear his name.  Pursuing him is the charismatic and rather manic U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones).

Every review that I’ve ever read about The Fugitive always praises two scenes.  One is the bus crash that gives Kimble his opportunity to escape.  The other is the scene where Gerard first catches up to Kimble.  Standing at the edge of a storm drain, Kimble says that he’s innocent.  Gerard calmly  replies, “I don’t care.”  Kimble then proceeds to jump over the edge and into the raging waters below.  Realistically, the fall really should have killed him but, if it had, there would be no movie.

Those two scenes are genuinely exciting and well-done.  Unfortunately, the rest of the film isn’t quite as memorable.  Kimble spends the rest of the movie running around Chicago while Gerard chases after him.  It’s all shot well enough and Tommy Lee Jones is a lot of fun to watch (the film comes to life in the scenes where Gerard interacts with the other members of his team) but, at the same time, it all feels rather predictable.  For all the scenes of Ford looking intense and running through the city, I was more excited about the chance to say, “Hey, isn’t that Julianne Moore!?” when she showed up as a sympathetic doctor.

Worst of all, the solution to the film’s mystery literally comes out of nowhere.  However, that solution does feature a Big Evil Corporation which, if nothing else, qualifies The Fugitive for inclusion in the 44 Days of Paranoia.

Watching The Fugitive, I could see how the film had influenced other action films and I think that was a large reason why the film didn’t work for me.  What was once undoubtedly seen as being thrilling and surprising now seemed rather mundane and predictable.

That’s why I imagine that, in the case of The Fugitive, you just had to be there.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed
  29. A Face In The Crowd
  30. Nixon
  31. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  32. The Purge
  33. The Stepford Wives
  34. Saboteur
  35. A Dark Truth