In The Line of Duty: The FBI Murders (1988, directed by Dick Lowry)

Last night, after I wrote up my review of the last In The Line of Duty movie, I checked and discovered that the first In The Line of Duty movie is now available on YouTube.

In The Line of Duty: The FBI Murders is the one that started it all.  This was the first installment and it set the general format of all the In The Line of Duty films to follow.  It was based on a true story.  The movie was evenly split between the criminals and the members of the law enforcement trying to catch them.  Here, the criminals were two bank robbers played by David Soul and, in an effective turn against type, Michael Gross.  (When this film was released, Gross was best known as the wimpy father on Family Ties.  Today, he’s better known as the survivalist from the Tremors films.  He went on to play cops in two subsequent In The Line of Duty films.)  The FBI agents pursuing them were played by Ronny Cox, Bruce Greenwood, and several other recognizable TV actors.

The FBI Murders was not only the first In The Line of Duty film but it was also the best.  All of the subsequent installments, both good and bad, pale in comparison.  Though the story is familiar and the foreshadowing is sometimes obvious (“Try not to get shot,” one FBI agent’s wife tells him), The FBI Murders still holds up today because of the strong cast and Dick Lowry’s direction of the final shootout between the cops and the criminals.  No matter how many times David Soul gets shot, he keeps getting up and firing more rounds.  Making this part of the film all the more effective is that it’s based on fact.  During the actual incident, the real-life criminals played by Soul and Gross continued firing and killing even though they had been shot a tremendous number of times.  Remarkably, it was discovered that neither had been on any type of pain-killing drug at the time.  Instead, they were determined to just keep shooting until the end.  Though the two men were outnumbered by the FBI, the agents were not prepared to go up against the military-grade weapons that the men were carrying with them.

The actors who play the FBI agents are all effective, especially Ronny Cox as the veteran who has seen it all.  As with the other In The Line of Duty films, a lot of time is spend showing the comradery between the agents and how, even when they’re not at work, they’re all still together.  In other In The Line of Duty films, the comradery could sometimes feel forced but, in The FBI Murders, it feels natural and scenes like Bruce Greenwood’s character finally getting a nickname and one of the older agents deciding to go on a stakeout just for old times sake carry a lot more emotional weight than you might expect.  It makes the final shootout all the more powerful.

Eleven more In The Line of Duty films would follow but none of them would top The FBI Murders.

In The Line of Duty: Blaze Of Glory (1997, directed by Dick Lowry)

In 1997, NBC’s series of In The Line of Duty movie went out in a blaze of glory with Lori Loughlin and Bruce Campbell!

Lori and Bruce play Jill and Jeff Erickson, an attractive couple who finance their perfect life by robbing banks.  Jeff wears an obvious fake beard and, because he’s played by Bruce Campbell, it is easy to initially treat his crime spree as being a big joke.  Jeff and Jill use their money to buy a big house and to open up their own used bookstore.  Their robberies start to get bigger and more elaborate and Jill goes from being a passive observer to an active participant.  Jill gets such a rush from the robberies that she can’t stop.  While the press treats the two of them like a modern day Bonnie and Clyde, FBI agent Tom LaSalle (Bradley Whitford) tries to bring them to justice before someone gets killed.

Blaze of Glory is based on a true story.  The crime spree of Jill and Jeff Erickson also inspired another film, John McNaughton’s Normal Life, which starred Luke Perry as Jeff and Ashley Judd as Jill.  Normal Life is told almost entirely from the point of view of the bank robbers while Blaze of Glory, like all of the In The Line of Duty movies, is firmly on the side of law enforcement.  Both films tell the same story and stay fairly close to the facts of the case but it’s interesting to see how behavior that was presented as being romantic and tragic in Normal Life is portrayed as being dangerous and arrogant in Blaze of Glory.

Bruce Campbell and Lori Loughlin are the two main reasons to watch Blaze of Glory.  Campbell plays Jeff Erickson as being a slightly smarter version of Ash.  Jeff may enjoy running his used bookstore and talking to people about literature but he simply cannot stay out of trouble.  He has the confidence necessary to rob a bank but he’s also so reckless that he doesn’t think much about what he’s going to do after he puts on his fake beard and fires his gun at the ceiling.  Lori Loughlin, having finally escaped from Full House, gives an uninhibited and sexy performance as Jill, who is never happier than when she’s helping her husband to rob a bank.  Eventually, she turns out to be just as reckless as her husband and even more willing to fight her way out of a police chase.  Campbell and Louglin are so good that it’s too bad that half of the movie is Bradley Whitford as the lead FBI agent and Brad Sullivan as his father.

After sitting out Kidnapped, Dick Lowry returns to the director’s chair for the final In The Line of Duty and it’s one of the best of the series.  The action scenes are exciting and Campbell and Loughlin burn up the screen.  Blaze of Glory was the finale of In The Line of Duty but what a way to go!

In the Line of Duty: Hunt For Justice (1994, directed by Dick Lowry)

When New Jersey State Trooper Philip Lomonaco (Dan Lauria) pulls over a car for having mud on its license plate, he doesn’t know that the car is being driven by two members of the United Freedom Front, a group of left-wing revolutionaries.  While Lomonaco talks to Tom Manning (Miguel Ferrer), Dickie Williams (Dell Yount) opens fire.  Lomanaco is killed and Tom and Dickie flee to their safehouse in New England.  While the United Freedom Front plots their next series of bombings and bank robberies, Lomonaco’s ex-partner (Nicholas Turturro) teams up with an FBI agent (Adam Arkin) to track down the terrorists and get justice for his fallen friend.

Hunt For Justice was the ninth of NBC’s In The Line of Duty films.  The previous films featured religious cults, anti-tax protestors, drug lords, and mobsters.  In this one, the antagonists are all former 60s radicals who are still trying to overthrow the system.  The FBI views the United Freedom Front as being a threat to national security while Lomonaco’s partner just wants to make sure that Lomonaco’s death won’t go unpunished.  Dan Lauria was actually a mainstay of the In The Line of Duty films, appearing previously in A Cop for the Killing and and Ambush in Waco.  (Nicholas Turturro was previously featured, on the other side of the law, in Mob Justice.)  Since most people who watch this film will probably remember Lauria as being Kevin Arnold’s father in The Wonder Years, everyone will want his killers to be brought to justice.

As with the previous In The Line of Duty movies, the action is evenly divided between law enforcement and the criminals that they’re pursuing.  At first, Miguel Ferrer seems like odd-casting as a leftist who admires Che Guevara but he gives a good performance as someone who regrets some of the decisions that he made in the past but who knows that he can’t change them now.  Melissa Leo is also very good as his wife.  Stephen Root and Dean Norris, two other actors who you would not necessarily expect to see playing left-wing revolutionaries, are cast as the other members of the United Freedom Front and Hunt For Justice does a good job of contrasting their middle class lifestyles with their revolutionary rhetoric.  One of the ironies of the film is that the revolutionaries are leading much more comfortable and financially-stable lives than the men who are trying to hunt them down.  In fact, the main problem with the movie is that the revolutionaries are so interesting that it’s always a letdown when the action shifts over to Turturro and Arkin, whose characters are far less interesting.  Arkin and Turturro go through the expected paces.  The FBI doesn’t like it when local cops try to interfere with their investigations.  Who knew?

Hunt for Justice is a pretty standard In The Line of Duty movie but no movie featuring Miguel Ferrer, Melissa Leo, and Stephen Root is ever going to be a total loss.  The cast is the best thing that Hunt For Justice has going for it.

In the Line of Duty: The Price of Vengeance (1994, directed by Dick Lowry)

Johnnie Moore (Brent Jennings) is a former limo driver turned criminal mastermind.  The members of his gang look up to him with cult-like admiration.  On his orders, they have been robbing businesses all over town.  Johnnie says that he is a man of God but he has no hesitation when it comes to ordering his men to threaten and sometimes kill any witnesses.  When Detective Tom Williams (Michael Gross) comes to close to finally convincing someone to testify against the gang, Moore orders his assassination.  When the members of his gang fail to get the job done because none of them want to shoot Tom when his family is around, Johnnie does it himself by dressing up as a clown and gunning Tom down in front of Tom’s son.  That was Johnnie’s biggest mistake because now, he’s got Tom’s best friend, Detective Jack Lowe (Dean Stockwell), after him.

After Street Wars, NBC’s next two In The Line of Duty films both focused on FBI sieges.  Both The Siege at Marion and Ambush in Waco featured true stories of the FBI trying to arrest religious fanatics and having to wait out a stand-off.  Ambush in Waco was controversial because it was not only based on the Branch Davidian stand-off but it was actually filmed while the stand-off was still going on.  Perhaps because of the controversy, The Price of Vengeance tells a much simpler and less exploitive story.  Johnnie Moore is a criminal who kills a cop.  Jack Lowe makes it his mission to put him away.  There’s no risk of anyone watching siding with Johnnie Moore like they may have done with David Koresh while watching Ambush in Waco.  Moore kills a man in front of his son and then laughs about it.  Everyone watching is going to want to see him get punished and they are going to cheer on the efforts of law enforcement to make sure the punishment fits the crime.

The Price of Vengeance is a typical police procedural but it has a good cast.  After playing a killer in the first In The Line of Duty movie and the lead FBI man in the third one, Michael Gross is cast as the victim here and he’s so likable that you’ll be angered when he gets gunned down.  Dean Stockwell brings his no-nonsense, down-to-Earth style to the role of Gross’s best friend and Brent Jennings is smug and evil as Johnnie Moore.  Mary Kay Place, Kathleen Robertson, and Justin Garms play the members of Gross’s family and they all do a good job of showing the trauma that they’ve suffered as a result of his murder.  Keep an eye out for Courtney Gains, playing a member of Moore’s criminal crew.  Gains played this same character in a dozen different films.  If you see Courtney Gains in a movie, look out because he’s up to no good!

The Price of Vengeance is a standard 90s cop show.  Nothing about it will take you by surprise but it’s partially redeemed by its cast.

In the Line of Duty: Street War (1992, directed by Dick Lowry)

Street War, the fifth In The Line of Duty movie to be produced by NBC, takes place in Brooklyn.  Raymond Williams (Mario Van Peebles) and Robert Dayton (Michael Boatman) are two uniformed officers trying to keep the peace in the projects.  When Raymond is shot and killed in a stairwell, everyone knows that drug dealer Justice Butler (Courtney B. Vance) was responsible but no one can prove it.

The case is assigned to two detectives, Dan Reilly (Peter Boyle) and Victor Tomasino (Ray Sharkey).  Reilly is a veteran cop who is just a few months away from retirement.  Tomasino is the son of a “made man” who can’t understand why the drug lords in Brooklyn aren’t as interested in keeping the peace as the old Mafiosos were.

When Justice leaves Brooklyn so that he can hide out with his family in South Carolina, Reilly and Dayton follow him down there and discover that people in South Carolina distrust the cops just as much as people in Brooklyn.  Meanwhile, back in Brooklyn, Justice’s second-in-command, Prince (Morris Chestnut), tries to keep an all-out war from breaking out.

Prince and Tomasino take turns narrating the movie.  Prince talks about the reality of trying to restart your life after doing time in prison while Tomasino complains that “the animals” have taken over the city.  (Because this was made for television, “Animals” is Tomasino’s go-to label for anyone he dislikes.  Anyone with any experience with the police will know what word he is actually thinking.)  While Chestnut gives a restrained and thoughtful performance, Ray Sharkey shouts his lines and snarls whenever he’s onscreen.  Though it’s not always evident in this movie, Sharkey started out as a talented actor who played small roles in several independent films before starring in The Idolmaker.  Unfortunately, Sharkey was also a heroin addict whose once promising career was derailed by a series of arrests and jail sentences.  He looks thin and tired in Street Wars and, one year after the film aired, he would die of complications from AIDS.

With Sharkey yelling his lines, it falls on Peter Boyle to play the voice of reason in Street War.  Dan Reilly is a cliché, the weary cop who still wants to make the world a better place and who is just a few days away from retirement.  But Boyle does a good job playing him and brings his own natural gravitas to the movie.

Dick Lowry, who directed the first three In The Line of Duty movies, returns for this one and he keeps the action moving.  Street War is significantly more violent than the previous movies, with even two children getting shot onscreen.  The story itself is a predictable and Tomasino’s casual racism can be hard to take (even if he does eventually called out about it) but, thanks to the performances of Boyle, Boatman, Chestnut, and Vance, Street War is an improvement on Mob Justice and an adequate entry in the series.

Street War would be followed by two movies about FBI sieges, The Siege at Marion and Ambush in Waco.  Since I’ve already reviewed both of those, I will be moving onto In the Line of Duty: The Price of Vengeance tomorrow.

In The Line of Duty: Manhunt in the Dakotas (1991, directed by Dick Lowry)

On February 13th, 1983, a group of U.S. Marshals attempted to arrest a man named Gordon Kahl in North Dakota.  Kahl was an outspoken tax resistor.  He had already served time in Leavenworth for refusing to pay his taxes.  When he was released, he continued to refuse to pay and, in violation of his parole, started to attend meetings of the Posse Comitatus, an organization that refused to recognize the authority of any government above the county level.  Because Kahl was so prominent in anti-government circles, the plan was to make an example out of him by arresting him as he left a Posse Comitatus meeting.  Instead, Kahl,  his son, and an associate opened fire on the U.S. Marshals, killing two of them.  Kahl escaped and, for several months, was the subject of an FBI manhunt.

To make clear, Gordon Kahl was not a good man.  Gordon Kahl was a white supremacist and an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist who was a follower of the Christian Identity movement.  While Kahl’s supporters claimed that Kahl originally fired on the marshals in self-defense, eyewitnesses testified that Kahl personally executed one marshal after he had already been wounded and was no longer a threat.  Gordon Kahl was no hero but, at a time when many farmers were struggling financially and felt helpless as they watched the banks and the government seize their land, many locals did sympathize with him.  The government’s attempt to publicly arrest Kahl and make an example out of him was seen as a classic example of government overreach.  The government was so eager to catch Kahl and Kahl was initially so successful in eluding them that Gordon Kahl became a folk hero.  When Kahl was discovered hiding out in an Arkansas farmhouse, it led to Kahl killing another deputy and the the government firing over a thousand rounds into the house before eventually setting it on fire.  In their effort to capture Gordon Kahl, the government behaved just as destructively as Kahl always said they would.

The hunt for Gordon Kahl served as the basis for the third of NBC’s In The Line of Duty films, Manhunt in the Dakotas.  Rod Steiger played Gordon Kahl.  Michael Gross, fresh off of playing a tax resistor in Tremors, played the FBI agent who headed up the manhunt.  Dick Lowry, director of the previous two installments of In The Line of Duty, returned to direct.

Manhunt in the Dakotas is a fair and even-handed look at the search for Gordon Kahl.  The film doesn’t shy away from Kahl’s racism and his paranoia but, at the same time, it also shows why many people instinctively distrust anyone who says that he’s from the government.  The film shows why so many supported Kahl without supporting Kahl itself.  Gross’s FBI agent may start out as rigid and by-the-book but he quickly learns that’s not the best way to get people to answer his questions.  Having come to understand why the people of the Dakotas don’t trust the government, he can only helplessly watch as the government does everything in its power to make Kahl’s paranoid claims seem plausible.  The FBI agent is determined to bring Gordon Kahl in alive but Kahl would rather be a martyr and it seems that the rest of law enforcement is all too happy to help Kahl achieve that.  Other than a few scenes were he indulges in his tendency to overact, Steiger gives a convincing performance as Kahl and he is well-matched by Michael Gross as the agent who comes to realize that there’s more to enforcing the law than giving orders and threatening to send people to prison.

Manhunt in the Dakotas would be followed by In The Line of Duty: Mob Justice, which I will review tomorrow.

In the Line of Duty: A Cop For The Killing (1990, directed by Dick Lowry)

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.

The Further Adventures of Smokey and the Bandit

The first Smokey and the Bandit is a classic.  What about the sequels?

Smokey and the Bandit II (1980, directed by Hal Needham)

The gang’s all back in this sequel to Smokey and the Bandit!  Burt Reynolds is the Bandit!  Jackie Gleason is Sheriff Buford T. Justice and his two brothers, Reginald and Gaylord!  Jerry Reed is Snowman!  Sally Field is Carrie!  Pat McCormick and Paul Williams are Big and Little Enos!  Mike Henry is Junior!  Dom DeLuise is an Italian doctor!  Terry Bradshaw and Mean Joe Greene play themselves!  There’s an elephant!

You get the idea.  Smokey and the Bandit II promises more of the same.  In some ways, it delivers.  There are some entertaining stunts.  The finale features what was, at the time, the biggest car chase ever filmed.  But Smokey and the Bandit II fails at the most important part.  It fails to recreate the fun of the first film.  Everyone is just going through the motions.  Burt Reynolds later said that he only made the film as a favor to Hal Needham while Sally Field said that she agreed to appear in the film as a favor to Burt Reynolds.  Jackie Gleason did the movie because he needed the money but, because he was also in poor health, he requested that his scenes be filmed first and that they be filmed quickly.  That the three stars didn’t have much enthusiasm for the project is obvious while watching the movie.

This time, Big Enos wants the Bandit to transport an elephant to the Republican National Convention in Dallas.  The Bandit, however, has been an alcoholic wreck ever since Carrie left him to, for some reason, get back with Junior.  Snowman manages to sober up the Bandit and, after they help Carrie run out on her wedding for a second time, it’s time to transport an elephant.

In hot pursuit, Sheriff Justice gets help from his brothers, all of whom are also played by Gleason.  Reginald Justice is a Canadian Mountie who speaks with a posh accent that is in no way Canadian.  Gaylord Justice is a flamboyant state patrolman.  Whenever the brothers talk to each other, doubles are used.  There are a few split screen shots that are so ineptly handled that it ends up looking like a page from a comic book with each Gleason standing in a separate panel.  The end credits list Gaylord as having been played by “Ms. Jackie Gleason,” just in case you’re wondering the level of this film’s humor.

Dom DeLuise gets some laughs as an Italian doctor who is recruited to take care of the elephant but otherwise, this is a depressing movie.  Burt Reynolds and Sally Field were on the verge of breaking up when this film was made and neither one of them acts their scenes with much enthusiasm.  Watching the movie, it’s impossible not to compare their strong chemistry in the first movie to their total lack of it in the second movie.  There’s a subplot about the Bandit trying to prove that, even though he’s getting older, he’s still a legend and, for those who know anything about Burt Reynolds’s career, it hits too close to home.  Combining that with the sight of an obviously unwell Jackie Gleason and you’ve got a surprisingly depressing comedy.

There is one cool thing about Smokey and the Bandit II.  After the critics thoroughly roasted the film, Hal Needham took out a one-page ad in Variety.  The ad was a picture of Needham sitting in a wheel barrow full of money.  That’s one way to answer your critics!

Smokey and the Bandit 3 (1983, directed by Dick Lowry)

Smokey and the Bandit 3 is even more depressing than the second film.  Not surprisingly, Sally Field is nowhere to be found.  She had broken up with Burt after the second film and was busy pursuing a career as the type of actress who didn’t appear in car chase films.  Burt does appear in the film but he only makes a cameo appearance, showing up for a few minutes at the end with a resigned look on his face as if he realized that he was never going to escape being typecast as an aging good ol’ boy.  Also not returning was Hal Needham.  Needham was busy directing Stroker Ace so he was replaced by Dick Lowry.  What type of director was Dick Lowry?  Other than Smokey and the Bandit 3, Lowry’s best known credit is for Project Alf.

Jackie Gleason, Jerry Reed, Pat McCormick, Mike Henry, and Paul Williams all return but none of them look happy to be there.  The plot is that Sheriff Buford T. Justice has retired to Florida but he just can’t turn down a challenge from Big Enos and Little Enos to drive a stuffed shark from Miami to Dallas.  Smokey is the Bandit!  (That was originally the title of this film.)  When it looks like Buford is doing too good of a job of transporting the shark, the Enoses hire Snowman to chase Buford and slow him down.  It doesn’t make any sense and Jerry Reed and Jackie Gleason don’t share any scenes together despite co-starring in the film.  Supposedly, Gleason was originally cast as two characters — Buford and the man hired to slow Buford down — but when preview audiences were confused by the film, the studio demanded reshoots.  Jerry Reed was brought back and all of the scenes featuring Gleason as the new Bandit were reshot with Reed.  Reed even grew a mustache, wore a red shirt, and broke the fourth wall just like Burt did in the first film.

Not surprisingly, Smokey and the Bandit 3 is a disjointed mess that doesn’t even have any spectacular car crashes to justify its existence.  Jerry Reed is as amiable as he was in the first two films but Jackie Gleason’s Buford Justice was never meant to be a lead character.  In small doses, he was funny but Buford was too one-dimensional of a character to build an entire film around.

Smokey and the Bandit 3 was a failure with critics and at the box office so the Bandit’s adventures came to a temporary end.  Years later, Hal Needham produced four made-for-TV prequels the starred Brian Bloom as a young Bandit.  I haven’t seen them.  If I ever do, I’ll review them.

In The Line Of Duty: Ambush In Waco (1993, directed by Dick Lowry)

In Waco, Texas, a scruffy and frustrated musician named David Koresh (Tim Daly) has announced that he is the messiah and is gathering followers to live with him in a compound.  The Branch Davidians, as they are known, spend hours listening as the increasingly unhinged Koresh gives lengthy sermons.  There are rumors that Koresh is abusing the many children who live in the compound and that he is stockpiling weapons for a confrontation with the government.

The ATF makes plans to raid the compound and take Koresh into custody.  Under the supervision of Bob Blanchard (Dan Lauria), the agents run several practice raids.  However, when the day of the actual raid comes, they discover that the David Koresh and the Branch Davidians aren’t going to give up so easily…

Ambush in Waco is a dramatization of the infamous raid that led to a 51-day stand-off between the government and the Branch Davidians, a stand-off that ended with the compound in flames and the deaths of several innocent children.  Over the years, the siege in Waco has often been cited as an example of both government incompetence and law enforcement overreaction.  Instead of arresting Koresh during one of his many trips into town, the ATF decided to do a dramatic raid for the benefit of the news cameras and they were unprepared for what was waiting for them inside of the compound.  After 51 days of negotiations, the FBI tried to force Koresh out and, in the eyes of many, were responsible for the death of every man, woman, and child inside of the compound.  For many, the events in Waco represent the government at its worse.

You wouldn’t know that just from watching Ambush In Waco.  This made-for-TV movie was put into production while the siege was still ongoing.  As a result, the film shows the events leading up to the initial raid but nothing that followed.  Since it would be years before the full extent of the government’s incompetence at Waco would be uncovered, Ambush in Waco today feels like propaganda, a whitewash of a shameful moment of American law enforcement history.  The ATF is portrayed as being thoroughly professional while Koresh is a dangerous madman who is on the verge of trying to lead a violent revolution.  Today, we know that wasn’t the case.  Koresh may have been a loser with delusions of grandeur but he probably would have been content to spend the rest of his life hidden away in his compound.  Meanwhile, newly appointed Attorney General Janet Reno was so eager to prove her toughness that the situation was allowed to get out of control.  That’s not something you’ll learn from watching Ambush in Waco.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that David Koresh wasn’t a bad dude.  Tim Daly is this film’s saving grace, giving an outstanding performance as an unstable, wannabe dictator.  Ambush in Waco shows how someone like Koresh could end up attracting so many followers and it also shows how even the most well-intentioned of people can be brainwashed.  Though the film may not convince us that the ATF was justified in their actions, it does show us why we should be weary of anyone who claims to have all the answers.