By Marc S. Sanders
Internal Affairs has a promising start as we see Richard Gere as decorated officer Dennis Peck compromise a police shooting in favor of his fellow officer (Michael Beach) who has just shot a fleeing unarmed suspect in the back. Right away it’s apparent that Gere is the bad guy here and soon we will see how Andy Garcia as new Los Angeles Internal Affairs officer Raymond Avila will investigate Peck for his violations. Unfortunately, the movie from director Mike Figgis reduces itself to simply having the male characters of the film, including William Baldwin as another dirty, drug addicted cop, physically abusing the female characters around.
This film from 1990 shows its age for sure with frizzy hair sprayed dos and large lapel jackets and skinny ties, but that was not my main issue. It would not be until 2006 in the Martin Scorsese film The Departed that we would see what I was hoping for with Internal Affairs; how a dirty cop works, and how the righteous cop gives pursuit. If only Figgis’ film was smart enough to focus on the method behind Dennis’ actions of crime and police superiority. Instead, we get a Richard Gere who actually shows he can play an effective bad guy, psychologically messing with Andy Garcia’s character by giving him the illusion that he’s having an affair with his wife. What’s Garcia’s response to this? He slaps his wife, played by Nancy Travis, in the middle of a crowded restaurant. When the two clear the air about what’s going on, they slap each other again before making up.
Gere also slaps and physically threatens his own wife played by Annabella Sciorra to drive the point home that she better not talk to the Internal Affairs department. As well, Gere also slaps around his mistress, a wife of one of his criminal associates. William Baldwin’s character slaps around his wife too. You seeing a pattern here?
It’s one thing to depict domestic abuse in film. There’s room for that. Because it sadly happens all too often, it’s appreciated if it’s handled with sensitivity. Here though, the abuse against women is used as a punchline to a scene, one after the other, and the overall theme of the picture is not supposed to be domestic violence. It bothers me that Mike Figgis tosses this kind of material around like effective drama, seemingly trying to make it look sexy to smack a good looking woman around by a good looking man. About the only woman in the cast not to get abused is Laurie Metcalf as Garcia’s lesbian mentor and partner. She gets referred to as a “dyke,” by both the villain and the hero of the film. This is just a very cold, thoughtless picture that runs short on imagination.
How does Garcia get the idea to investigate Gere’s character? He just has a sneaky feeling about the guy. That’s all that’s necessary to move things along here. In a better police film like The French Connection, the cops were displayed with step-by-step surveillance tactics that first put them on to a low rent street hood that ultimately leads to something bigger. We saw a method to their instincts that led to something tangible and proof worthy. I wish Mike Figgis, with a screenplay by Henry Bean, delved more deeply into what made the Dennis and Raymond characters so good at what they do. Films like Heat and Dirty Harry explore those backgrounds. Internal Affairs just takes the cheap shots of beating and dominating the women in these characters’ lives, while never showing the drive for what they do. Ultimately, the film comes up short sighted, and especially very, very insensitive. This is just an abusive film.