This is an ambitious movie. It takes a cop who is corrupt in an ends-justify-the-means sense and contrasts him with a cop who is corrupt in a what’s-in-it-for-me sense and arranges for them to clash just as the jury in the first Rodney King case is deliberating on a verdict.
But when this movie succeeds, it is not in its attempt at a broader statement about integrity and responsibility in a world that is racist and dishonorable. Its strength is in its fine performances and in its smaller moments. Its weakness is a climax that is both melodramatic and formulaic and its unfortunate resemblance to the flashier Training Day by the same screenwriter.
Like that movie, this is the story of a rogue police detective teaching a young partner how to do things his way. Eldon Perry, Jr. (Kurt Russell) comes from a family of lawmen as far back as anyone can remember. He learned from his father what he is trying to pass on to his new partner, Bobby (Scott Speedman) — anything he can do to rid the world of one more bad guy is all right. Bobby is the nephew of Eldon’s mentor and boss, played by Brendan Gleeson (Gangs of New York).
The movie is not subtle. The cops who wear the uniform are the good guys and the bad guys are very, very bad. The quadruple homicide-robbery that puts the story into play is, even these days, shockingly casual in its brutality. And the last twenty minutes are embarassingly preposterous. But Russell, an underappreciated actor, gives a thoughtful, heartfelt performance that beautifully illuminates the movie’s themse of decay and redemption.
Parents should know that this movie includes extreme peril and brutal violence. Innocent people are casually murdered. Characters abuse liquor, smoke, and use drugs. There is extremely strong language, including racist epithets. There are sexual references and situations, including adultery and a sexual relationship between people who intentionally know nothing about one another. A theme of the movie is the parallel between the corruption of the police force and the corruption of the surrounding society, and that is reflected in behavior that is greedy, disloyal, bigoted, and cruel.
Families who see this movie should talk about how even people who abandon core values have their own value systems. Where do we see TK’s limits? What makes him hit bottom and decide to change? Family members too young to remember the Rodney King trial should look at this site for further information. And everyone should remember King’s famous question, “Can’t we all get along?”