Wednesday, October 06, 2010

THE NEW CENTURIONS (1972) -
Richard Fleischer


The L.A. beat cops of The New Centurions aren't bad guys, per se. Other than the odd bottle of scotch hidden in call-boxes around the city or the occasional vice squad assignment "busting fruits" for cruising in MacArthur Park, these boys in blue are mainly just underpaid, under-appreciated civil servants clocking their hours till retirement. They're not the "pigs" everyone says they are. These are the guys that no one wants to see until the shit hits the fan, and then they're suddenly your best friend. They're the guys who can't keep their marriages together. The guys who can't quite finish that last college course in Crim Pro to become a lawyer. The guys who can't shake that cheap high they get workin' the streets for a regular 9 to 5. They're the modern-day answer to ancient Rome's unloved foot soldiers. Except, instead of togas and swords they're packing, it's tacos and Smith and Wesson's.

Yes, all the cop movie cliches are on full display in The New Centurions. The idealistic rookie cop fresh out of the academy (Stacy Keach) who's in for a rude awakening. The grisled veteran with his own set of rules who's on the verge of retirement (a fine George C. Scott). You won't be that surprised when Keach's marriage to a school teacher falls apart or when Scott gets a little more than nostalgic for street action post-retirement. But Centurions rises above the norm by keeping its nose close to the beat, following the boys on an episodic series of busts or would-be busts rather than imposing an over-busy corruption plot on the proceedings. It's all in the details, the little touches that surprise you. Just when you think the old school veteran Scott is going to get Tea Party belligerent on an apartment full of "wetbacks" for shacking up ten to a room, he flips the script and beats down the landlord, chastising the opportunistic slum-runner for gouging the poor laborers for rent at $50 a head.

Thanks to cop-turned-author Joseph Wambaugh's credible slice-of-life book and the Stirling Silliphant script, The New Centurions is better than your average men-in-blue apologist fare. Consider it the training manual for the much more hyperbolic Training Day.

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