R | 1h 38min | Action, thriller | 15 November 2019
Whenever I hear of a new cop feature film, I maintain a sense of cautious optimism. The standard “bad cop” trope has really been done to death, and the real-life folks in law enforcement have a tough enough time serving and protecting the public without negative publicity broadcast about them in our country’s theaters.
Fortunately, the new cop thriller “Line of Duty” doesn’t necessarily follow this hackneyed formula, but it does fall into another familiar category—that of the disgraced cop who has to redeem himself.
Screenwriter Jeremy Drysdale’s script has a distinctly 1980s vibe to it, harkening back to fluffy cop dramas such as “Lethal Weapon” and “Red Heat,” and combined with Steven C. Miller’s loud and raucous direction, proudly wears its retro trappings on its sleeve.
Aaron Eckhart (“The Dark Knight,” “The Core”) is Officer Frank Penny, a cop with a murky past who gets caught up in circumstances that verge on the fringes of ridiculousness. In the film’s first act, he becomes involved in the chase-in-progress of a male suspect and ends up cornering the man in a dead-end alleyway. (We’ve never seen that before.) The suspect does an almost perfunctory pause while drawing a pistol out of his waistband and turns to fire on Penny, who of course drops him with his own gun.
Officer Penny’s superior, Chief Volk (Giancarlo Esposito), isn’t too happy about the suspect’s death: The man was the only lead in the disappearance of his daughter. Hence, Penny catches hell and his career is thrown into jeopardy. The only way to redeem himself is to find out where the chief’s daughter is and rescue her from drowning in a box that is gradually filling up with water.
The main problem is that Penny’s been ordered to take a sudden leave of absence due to the shooting mishap, something that makes his effort to solve the case a rogue affair. Going rogue, of course, means disobeying orders from on high in his desperate bid to find the young girl.
Along the way, he meets up with a shrewd reporter named Ava Brooks (Courtney Eaton, “Perfect,” “Gods of Egypt”), who has a penchant for live-streaming her news reports.
The film does feature some of the silly back-and-forth dialogue that we’ve all witnessed in retro cop dramas from the ’80s and ’90s, mainly in the form of wisecracks that Officer Penny and reporter Brooks cast at one another. There’s nothing tongue-in-cheek here. It’s all handled pretty straight-nosed, as opposed to being clever or strewn with moments of irony.
Saggy Script But Great Action Film
I feel for both Eckhart and Eaton, both capable actors, who try to make the best out of a rather saggy, boilerplate script. Penny’s shady past is served up right on time when Brooks discovers that he accidentally caused the death of a young person. From there, she becomes increasingly suspicious of him since he also killed the suspect in the alleyway. Is this a pattern?—she wonders.
At various junctures, Brooks seems to be unrealistically shoehorned into the half-baked storyline. It’s as Drysdale wanted to make a buddy-cop film but tried to be self-consciously different because he wanted the strong female trope, but without her being a cop. As a cop, she would have been more complicit in Penny’s sketchy, morally tenuous actions.
Ben McKenzie (“Gotham” TV series) stars as main bad guy Dean Keller and does what he can with his cheesy lines; his character is pretty mono-dimensional.
Esposito rises to the occasion and manages to convey a frantic father trying to get to the bottom of who kidnapped his daughter and why they did so.
To the film’s credit, Miller is able to flex his directorial muscles with tense, adrenaline-pumping action scenes. You can tell that this is the same man who brought us noisily fun actioners such as 2017’s “First Kill” and 2016’s “Marauders.”
In the end, there’s not a whole lot to “Line of Duty,” which is hampered by a boggy script that has all of the directorial subtlety of a jackhammer. The acting is decent and there are a few laughs to be had with some of the corny one-liners, so the film does perform decently as a straight-ahead cop thriller. I just wish that it would have been a little more clever and nuanced.
‘Line of Duty’
Director: Steven C. Miller
Starring: Dina Meyer, Aaron Eckhart, Giancarlo Esposito
Running Time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Release Date: Nov. 15, 2019
Rated: 2.5 stars out of 5