The New Centurions

This entry in Sony’s amusingly vague new “Martini Movies” imprint stars George C. Scott (“Patton”) at the height of his early seventies fame as Kilvinski, a humane cop nearing retirement who bonds with his new partner, a would-be lawyer rookie partner (Stacy Keach) going through some big changes of his own. Adapted from a bestselling novel by ex-policeman Joseph Wambaugh, “The New Centurions” often foreshadows later cop dramas, particularly eighties TV groundbreaker “Hill Street Blues” — right down to earthy pre-patrol briefings and actor James B. Sikking sporting what appears to be the very same pipe he parlayed to semi-fame as the affected, egomaniacal Lt. Howard Hunter. Still, while familiar faces from lighter fare show up (Isabel Sanford of “The Jeffersons,” Erik “CHiPs” Estrada, and the eventually dickless William Atherton of “Ghostbusters”), 1972 was a year when grim was in and even the most mainstream of Hollywood films were often deliberately under-structured. Taking place over what appears to be several years, there is no particular “case” and this is not really a story about crime fighting; it’s an investigation into the effects of police work on vulnerable human beings. Written by Stirling Silliphant and directed by Richard Fleischer (“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” “Soylent Green,” and “Mandingo”), “The New Centurions” is slowed by overly novelistic/episodic pacing and a few too many contemporary mannerisms (including a wah-wah heavy score by Quincy Jones) but it works more often than it doesn’t because of its two first-rate lead actors and a great deal of sincerity. The film’s benevolent view of the quasi-militarist seventies LAPD may be iffy, but its depiction of the bigger truth here feels true enough: policemen are nothing more than human beings doing a job that can be as seductively destructive as heroin.

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