Gawky white-boy cop goes for a ride along, ends the day a little less gawky, and white. His superior is Denzel Washington’s Alonzo, a bad man so bad he’s too bad even for the streets — a self-styled wolf who uses his badge to wield power over criminals impotent and dangerous alike that’s less ambiguously amoral, more categorically diabolical. There is a moment the final act crosses into the theatrical, and if I linger on the specifics of it I start to question how satisfying it was. This doubt then crept into my thoughts on the wider substance of the film, were its power politics as smart as they had seemed at the time? Had I been sucked in by some cinematic trickery? Eventually realising I didn’t care if I had been. In the moment it made sense. Washington’s performance is compelling, the narrative strings together the events of the day’s ride into a plot you can buy, and director Antoine Fuqua maintains a sure-grip on the action throughout. All should be sufficient to mollify those lingering uncertainties.
A superb movie, but then you probably already knew that. My thoughts? Objectification of women, taken to its logical extreme by the serial killing culprit, was the strongest impression I had. Crucially, this impression wasn’t built solely from the smorgasbord of psychopaths on display — any film can present an objectionable viewpoint from the position of a Bad Man and not provoke much in the way of debate. It’s in the “good” and the bad. Chief among the director’s weapons is a lingering POV, most eye-catching when framing the electrifying one-on-one scenes between Jodie Foster’s Clarise and Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal. So magnetic are these scenes one could easily miss how important the same technique is in the gaps in-between. Men hitting on an attractive young woman in a professional setting might be an all-too common, nauseating experience for the latter. But the effect of the camera, always intimate enough to suggest every nervous, unsettling desire, always held just slightly longer than one feels comfortable with, imparts that queer ill-ease on the viewer. Dialogue also deserves a mention for its role in this. Even the most cordial of interactions near the end is lent such a dimension by one of Hannibal’s earlier taunts, “Jack Crawford is helping your career isn’t he? Apparently he likes you and you like him too”. Suggesting, almost slyly, that less separates his primeval bestiality from the rest of us than you might think.
I was less onboard for the final act. Changing gears immediately and decisively from psychological drama into action thriller, the latter was a touch too thriller finale by numbers for my taste, lacking some of the guile that marked its contemplative mode – but not without its share of gratifying thrills. It’s a relatively minor gripe for a movie that’ll command your attention with steely authority in the manner of its two leads – there’s not a second they’re on screen that your eyes won’t be.