Fort Apache, the Bronx (1981) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
|What a heady ride 1981 was for
Rachel Ticotin. At the tender age of 21, with no film
experience, she made her theatrical debut as the female
lead opposite Paul Newman! Several publications singled
her out as a promising newcomer, and many people were
predicting a great career for her. Didn't really happen.
She has continued to work steadily, and she's had a few
highlights like Don Juan DeMarco, but basically Fort
Apache remains the high point of her career, and only
real film buffs know her name at all.
'tis a shame, but I guess she chose to work in a crowded profession with a limited number for opportunities for great female roles, and she was eliminated from some of the opportunities because she was thought to have an ethnic look. Or maybe because she married David Caruso, thereby betraying some inherent mental instability. Just kidding, Dave, ya big jamoke.
|The film itself is hard to watch from our time. You see, when it came out, it had a gritty hard-edged realism that lent texture to a meandering story. Actually filmed in the South Bronx, it was one of the most realistic films of its day in portraying the uneasy relationship between the police and very difficult urban neighborhoods. The first problem is that in the 20 years since then, we have discovered AIDS, and the police can no longer defend themselves with Billy Clubs in a world where the bad guys have automatic weapons. The second problem is that subsequent and better known films have portrayed the crime scene with far grittier realism, and the violence with graphic accuracy. The result of these two problems is that this film now seems quaint.||
|That would be OK if there were more to
carry the film, but there isn't much. Gritty realism was
pretty much the whole calling card, and the film no
longer seems gritty or realistic. For example, Newman is
not especially worried when he finds out his girlfriend
shoots a little heroin. In today's paranoia about tainted
needles, that attitude seems as dated as Sherlock Holmes'
own drug use.
The plot is virtually non-existent. There is a double cop-slaying at the same time that a new captain takes over the precinct. He's eaqer to do the job right, and he's not wise in the ways of the streets, so he ends up bungling the investigation, creating several riots, and creating an antagonistic climate in which two cops end up throwing an innocent boy off a roof.
The main plot seems to center around finding the cop-killer, but that thread dies out halfway through, when we see her (Pam Grier, wasted in a cameo with about four lines) beaten and killed by some drug dealers. We see her body in the city dump, so we know the crime will never be solved, but life goes on at Fort Apache. Stripped of that thread, the movie simply becomes about five days in the life of the cops of that precinct when the new captain takes over. The only remaining dramatic hook is whether Paul Newman, a cop who witnessed the roof toss from a neighboring building, will do the right thing and rat out the other cop, even though ratting on a brother officer will certainly destroy his career.
from that, the film is picaresque. It just follows Newman
from episode to episode without much structure. The film
ends with him chasing the same guy he chased at the
beginning, ironically through the city dump, where we see
them run past the killer's body wrapped in a rug, and we
know that the cops will have some successes, some
failures, as in real life.
The greatest pleasure of the film is in characterization and detail. Paul Newman and Edward Asner are excellent as the cop and the captain, both of them providing nuances and shadings to make the characters realistic. Some smaller parts are filled with real imagination and savvy about the streets, and there are some excellent small touches - (The new captain hates the circus atmosphere of the station house, but the cops allow little kids to play there because it's the only place where they are safe)
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