Editor’s Note: McCanick is now open in limited release and on VOD
If there was just one thing that Werner Herzog proved with his take on Bad Lieutenant—aside from the inevitable reality that Nic Cage and an iguana is a recipe for the best buddy cop movie ever—it was that America ain’t done with the jaded detective. John Dalberg-Acton was right when he wrote that power tends to corrupt, but absolute corruption—at least if we’re to trust the movies—comes quickest from everyday exposure to the evil that men do. The evil that men see is oft-interred in their minds, and Herzog just like Abel Ferrara before him built on a rich film noir tradition of lawmen losing their humanity as they came to realise how horrible it was.
So it is with McCanick, whose methodical manhandling of the tropes we expect constitutes a capable cop story before a post-script manipulation makes of it so much more, or at least means to.
It’s a tradition of which McCanick is intently aware, hat tipped toward it at every available opportunity, from the noirish trumpet that emenates from the eponymous detective’s radio to the gravelly gruffness of David Morse’s lead performance. “Y’ever hold a Colt .45?” he asks a drug dealer with a sinister smile that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Dirty Harry’s face; Eugene McCanick is to Philadelphia what Callahan was to San Francisco, a man who makes a mockery of the motto “Honor, Integrity, Service”. It’s only his own interests he serves as he spends the film in search of an ex-con who knows more than he’d like, ignoring the express warnings of his captain.
That knowledge and its significance is smartly withheld by Daniel Noah’s script, allowing the mystery to drive the machinations of a genre film that navigates standard territory en route to its subversive end. If it’s the moral turpitude of lawmen that’s let them attain so engaging a screen presence, it’s the ends to which they’ve been used that have kept the narrative beats fresh. So it is with McCanick, whose methodical manhandling of the tropes we expect constitutes a capable cop story before a post-script manipulation makes of it so much more, or at least means to. For as much as the movie’s parting sleight-of-hand might invite us to dwell on its deployment of cliché, there’s a thin line between real reinvention and cheap ploy.
Even if it can ring as hollow as Ciarán Hinds’ hopeless effort at an American accent, it’s more often impressive just for the attempt.
McCanick manages to fall on the former side of the line, even if its balance seems unsteady on the way: Noah’s a smart scribe, and a second viewing should confirm his denouement more the payoff of careful character work than an unearned about-face out to surprise. Morse warrants just as much commendation; a familiar supporting face here relishing a worthy lead role, he’s the kind of actor born to brood. And brood he does, with a depth that makes McCanick, if never entirely empathetic, at least then engaging in an underscored way. A fine, final performance from the late Cory Monteith as his quarry does much to deepen the drama: neither man, it seems, has any good in him; each, at least, is engrossing all the same.
As in the opening shot, zooming slowly in to a curtained window at dawn, director Josh C. Waller observes from a distance, eschewing excess action in search of something deeper. He has a tendency to hold shots uncomfortably long at times, an effective approach that’s marred when matched to a tiring fondness for askew angles. Still, in the direction as in almost every aspect of McCanick, there’s a clear sense here of trying to trump the tropes of the cop story we see so often. Even if it can ring as hollow as Ciarán Hinds’ hopeless effort at an American accent, it’s more often impressive just for the attempt. If McCanick makes a mockery of the motto that touts service, McCanick—at least—is serviceable to the last.
[notification type=”star”]57/100 ~ MEDIOCRE. If McCanick makes a mockery of the motto that touts service, McCanick—at least—is serviceable to the last.[/notification]