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Cut the Cord: Law & Order
April 2022. Volume 1, Issue 4.
Welcome back to another issue of Cut the Cord. This month’s theme: Law & Order. We’re talking about one of my favorite subgenres, one primed for drama from the start: courtroom dramas. We’re also mixing in some movies that ask the same question about policing that we’ve been grappling with for a while, but especially since 2020. We’re avoiding movies where cops are heroes, instead talking about movies that are just as morally messy as they should be.
Have an idea for an issue’s theme or topic? Let me know in the comments down below or email me. Until then, enjoy this month’s issue.
Find Me Guilty (2006)
Based on the true story of Jack DiNorscio, a mobster who defended himself in court for what would be the longest mafia trial in U.S. history.
I don't know about you, but when I watch the Fast and Furious movies, I can't help but think of Vin Diesel as just a big lunkhead.
But then you see Vin in something else, where he plays to his loveable goofball strengths, you can't help but wish he did more things like this.
Directed by a man who knew how to get a lot out of actors, Sidney Lumet, Diesel gives a career-best performance as this gangster on trial who chooses to defend himself. I think that defending yourself in a court of law is probably one of the dumbest things you could ever do, and Diesel's character is definitely dumb. But he's also charasmatic, good-hearted, and very funny.
All the things I want Vin to be more often.
Dark Blue (2002)
Set during the Rodney King riots, a robbery homicide investigation triggers a series of events that will cause a corrupt LAPD officer to question his tactics.
I think there needed to be one movie on this list where pigs were just pigs.
Dark Blue has some of the most damaged, corrupt, morally-defecient police offers I've ever seen on film.
Everyone knows that in reality all cops aren't bad people. This movie argues otherwise.
By casting the always charismatic Kurt Russell as one of the slimiest slimballs you'll ever see, it makes it a really interesting moral dilemma for the audience. Everyone will walk in with their own feelings about police officers before the movie even begins. Then set it in the wake of Rodney King. Then let our characters deal with how that affects their immoral way of doing things. THEN cast Kurt Russell, your mom's favorite actor. It makes things really messy.
Three decades after Rodney King and two decades after the release of this film, we're still trying to clean up that moral mess.
The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989)
On the run again, Dr. David Banner is jailed for assault after interrupting a mugging. Blind attorney Matt Murdock enlists Banner’s help in locating the muggers because he believes they work for his longtime foe, Fisk, the head of an international crime network. Fisk must now face off against Daredevil and the Incredible Hulk!
This is a bit of a cheap pick, as the titular trial only lasts about 90 seconds in a dream sequence. But it makes the list for a few reasons.
For starters, it's the live-action debut of Daredevil, one of Marvel Comics' coolest and most underrated superheroes. This movie was supposed to be a launch for a Daredevil tv series, but that never transpired. Instead, this was the only Matt Murdock we got until Ben Affleck's in 2003.
Also, the movie is just damn fun. I've become the get-off-my-lawn grandpa when it comes to superhero movies, but I miss the days of them being more comicy. I miss when the Hulk was just a really buff guy we painted green. This movie delivers the goods.
A serial killer brutally slays and dismembers several gay men in New York’s S/M and leather districts. The young police officer Steve Burns is sent undercover onto the streets as decoy for the murderer. Working almost completely isolated from his department, he has to learn and practice the complex rules and signals of this little society.
I've tried writing about Cruising for about a year and a half now, and I'm still having trouble putting to words why it's so effective. Maybe I'll actually pull it off one day.
So instead, I'm going to leave you with, "Go watch this right now!" and one of my favorite Letterboxd reviews of all time:
Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
When Leonard Vole is arrested for the sensational murder of a rich, middle-aged widow, the famous Sir Wilfrid Robarts agrees to appear on his behalf. Sir Wilfrid, recovering from a near-fatal heart attack, is supposed to be on a diet of bland, civil suits—but the lure of the criminal courts is too much for him, especially when the case is so difficult.
Charles Laughton doing Billy Wilder doing Agatha Christie.
You already know if this movie is for you or not.
Yes, the movie's excellent, blah blah blah. Charles Laughton spicy Billy Wilder sardonic Agatha Christie unpredictable, yeah yeah we know.
I had jury duty recently, never got called, just sat there and read my book from morning to evening. I thought it would be interesting to get some glimpse into the legal system (maybe I did in my own weird way), but at least I got some interesting legal happenings in Witness for the Prosecution.
The part I found most interesting about the movie was the workings of the British court system. They sit in weird places! They wear funny wigs! They call the defendant the prisoner!
In a violent, near-apocalyptic Detroit, evil corporation Omni Consumer Products wins a contract from the city government to privatize the police force. To test their crime-eradicating cyborgs, the company leads street cop Alex Murphy into an armed confrontation with crime lord Boddicker so they can use his body to support their untested RoboCop prototype. But when RoboCop learns of the company’s nefarious plans, he turns on his masters.
There was some crap going around Twitter for a while dismissing RoboCop as "copaganda."
As you know, I've tried my very best to avoid any copaganda on this list, instead aiming to find movies that grapple with the same ethical dilemma about policing that we do in the real world.
Film Twitter erupted with roasts for that guy and although the mob that is Film Twitter can be really annoying (and sometimes bullies), that guy deserved it. That was stupid. He missed the point of RoboCop entirely.
The movie is a satire of capitalism, gentrification, and the privatization of public works, all wrapped up inside a rock 'em, sock 'em, chromatic metallic, violent action flick.
Just pulling that off is incredible. And not only do they pull it off, the movie's great.
12 Angry Men (1997)
During the trial of a man accused of his father’s murder, a lone juror takes a stand against the guilty verdict handed down by the others as a result of their preconceptions and prejudices.
Some may call this remake unnecessary, which I could agree with to some extent. However, you have to remember that 12 Angry Men was performed on both television and the stage before the famous 1957 Sidney Lumet version. While remakes of films are generally frowned upon, revivals of classic works on stage are welcomed.
Twelve Angry Men is performed hundreds of times a year, all around the country. Think of this version as yet another revival. And what better way to revisit a classic text than with an excellent cast? Ossie Davis, Tony Danza, and a pre-Sopranos Jim Gandolfini populate this ensemble. But for me, as much as I love this play, it all comes down to the back-and-forth between Juror 8 and Juror 3 towards the end, and this version casts those roles with legends Jack Lemmon and George C. Scott. What more could you want?
Law & Order (1990-2010, 2022-)
Lives hang in the balance as detectives and prosecutors pursue justice in New York City. In cases ripped from the headlines, police investigate serious and often deadly crimes, weighing the evidence and questioning the suspects until someone is taken into custody. The district attorney's office then builds a case to convict the perpetrator by proving the person guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. (IMDB)
Law & Order is the thing that got me to make this list. This April issue originally had an entirely different theme, but I wasn't too inspired by the movies anyway, so when I saw that Law & Order was coming back, it got me thinking.
What an interesting time for this show to be resurrected. How will this show be different from when it went off the air in 2010? What about when it first aired in 1990?
Why bring back a cop procedural? Obviously these cops are detectives and not beat cops, and there's the legal half of the show as well, but still, wow.
And right out the gate, they addressed those issues. I watched because I was curious. And then I was surprised when they handled them so well. It's a tricky thing now, police procedurals. Many people love them, they're cable tv staples. Hospital room staples. Pizzeria staples, for some reason.
But maybe we will enter a new era of that genre. One that actually looks a little more like the world we live in.
Just like always, I’ll be back next month with more. Until then, share with your friends. Get them to cut the cord.
Credit: Each plot synopsis comes from Letterboxd via TMDb.