Monday, May 8, 2017

THE ENFORCER (1976) - ***

Rated R
Running time: 96 min.
Release date: December 22, 1976

The Enforcer is a curious experiment in what happens old school, right-wing mentalities mingle with progressively liberal viewpoints and find that they have some common ground to stand on: they work together to solve issues, which is a lesson that could be learned with today's socio-political divide. One side may not agree with the principals of the other, but dammit if you can't find something in the other to respect and build some sort of working relationship from that. It's funny how a film from 1976 gets it. To top it off, The Enforcer is an enjoyable action flick on the surface.

Clint Eastwood returns as homicide detective 'Dirty' Harry Callahan in this third, and what was originally supposed to be the last, film of the Dirty Harry series. Of course, we catch Harry at his best, confronting a group of liquor store hold-up artists who have taken hostages and are demanding a car. Harry obliges by driving the car through the store-front window and shooting all the bad guys. We cheer at the audaciousness of it all, but seriously, how does Harry still have a job? His captain busts him down to the personnel department to conduct examinations of rookie officers, where we find that the mayor's office has ordered the department to follow the "stylish" affirmative action policy and hire women officers. Meanwhile, the bad guys here are a group of supposed wannabe domestic terrorists who have stolen a large cache of weapons from a police warehouse and are using explosives to hold the city ransom. They have killed Harry's latest partner (John Mitchum) during the weapons heist, and Harry is back on the case. In a surprising (for Harry) and neat twist, he is saddled with a female partner with no field experience, Kate Moore (Tyne Daly). The interaction between Harry and Kate is the meat of the film, as Harry's demeanor goes from one of irritation and exasperation to, eventually, respect and maybe even admiration, as much as Harry will allow himself to display. The antagonists, led by DeVeren Bookwalter as Bobby Maxwell, are never really developed as anything other than "a group of bad people". Their motivations are really muddled, as we never know if they have an agenda or are just out for money. The running time is a somewhat short 96 minutes, and it felt like that a little more time devoted to fleshing out the villains could have been helpful.

James Fargo makes his directorial debut here, after serving as Eastwood's assistant director on many of his films prior to this one. It's a solid debut, as Fargo gives the film a breezy pace and maintaining an even tone throughout. A few of the highlights include a foot chase between Harry and a suspect through the backstreets and rooftops of San Francisco, with Kate trying her best to keep up in her heels and skirt and then a showdown on Alcatraz, where the villains have holed up. Fargo shows to be a good hand at filming action sequences like these, which isn't surprising considering that he has worked with Eastwood many times.

Eastwood holds his usual Dirty Harry performance, projecting his outrage through his teeth. One thing he does here is lighten up a little in the presence of Tyne Daly, letting the respect show but holding back just enough so that Harry doesn't come off as a softie. Meanwhile, Daly gives a strong performance as Kate Moore. Daly gives Moore nerves of steel under pressure as she comes off as a strong-minded woman. The chemistry between Eastwood and Daly is good and is played up perfectly, beginning awkwardly as it should. Kate wants to earn Harry's respect more than anything else, and has done so by the end, as seen in the closing moments of the film. Another good performance of note is Albert Popwell as a black militant group leader who begrudgingly decided to help Harry find the villains, in order to take the heat off his group. Popwell has appeared in all three Dirty Harry films at this point, playing a different character in each one.

While The Enforcer has its flaws, such as the lack of interesting villains and not as much action as either of the first two films, this is still an entertaining film with a statement to be made about two ideologies coming together, in spite of their differences, and working together toward a solution. Plus, there is all that shooting and stuff!

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