January 20, 2013

Movie Review: Officer Down

Movie Review:  Officer Down

A tight neo-noir thriller with an amazing cast.

Review Copy provided to Now Playing courtesy of Anchor Bay films

Cover for DVD movie Officer Down
Officer Down
Starring Stephen Dorff, James Woods, Walton Goggins, AnnaLynne McCord, Dominic Purcell, David Boreanaz, Laura Harris, Elisabeth Röhm
Director: Brian A. Miler
Writer: John Chase
Studio: Anchor Bay Films
Release Date: January 22, 2013

Detective David Callahan was a dirty cop.  He took payoffs from criminals, abused alcohol and drugs, and cheated on his wife with prostitutes.  But when a drug deal goes bad and Callahan is shot and given a chance at redemption.  Declared a hero by the community, Callahan cleans up.  But two years later when the man who saved his life that night shows up and asks a favor, Callahan must return to the seedy underworld he once inhabited to stop a sexual predator called “The Angel” (Goggins).  But nothing is as it seems, and Callahan’s past will return to haunt him as he tries to find the line between doing what is right and slipping back into the habits of the man he once was.

As Callahan, Dorff (Blade, Feardotcom) portrays a likeable, layered character.  For the story to work Callahan must be a likable character that the audience can root for in spite of his dirty deeds, and Dorff brings the right mix of bad-boy and earnest cop to the role.  You believe he is wanting, and deserving, redemption for his sins, and his personal downward spiral is the center of the film.  The story’s framing structure of flashbacks-within-a-flashback reveal key plot points to the viewer in a way that allows claustrophobia to build as the walls close in around Callahan.  While at first a disorienting storytelling structure, as the film hits its rhythm this technique is used to maximum effect, and repeatedly pulls the rug out from under the viewer.

This is a neo-noir thriller, full of twists and turns in the style of Body Heat or Against All Odds, even casting the latter film’s star Woods at the role of Callahan’s complicit police captain.  The film style, including several scenes in black-and-white, enhance the noir style as well.  Once I realized this film was a deep mystery, and not a straightforward dirty-cop drama, I was engaged and found myself rooting for Callahan and wondering what insurmountable obstacle would step in his way next.  But the script by Chase kept me guessing, and even as the film’s final act started the script still had ways to surprise me.

The script is aided by a cast of name actors, mostly from television work.  Several Law & Order alums are in supporting roles, as well as two stars of Angel.  The budget of this film was well spent on capable actors.  But despite being recognizable faces, most of the cast is kept to the background with only Dorff, and to a lesser degree Goggins (Predators, House of 1000 Corpses) being given a chance to make a lasting impression.  In the role of a dirty strip club owner is Purcell (Prison Break, Blade: Trinity) and I can’t help but wonder if Purcell and Dorff spent time on set sharing Wesley Snipes war stories.  But if so, none of that levity made it to screen as the dark, suspenseful atmosphere of Officer Down is never broken.

Full of impressive camerawork, including some nice aerial establishing shots of the film’s Bridgeport, CT locale, every piece of this film comes together better than your average direct-to-video fare.

Title cards that end the film feel tacked on for audiences that hate ambiguity, but other than that one element every part of this film clicks.  For fans of character-driven suspense I recommend Officer Down, available Tuesday, January 22 from Anchor Bay home video.

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