Gangster Movie Month: "Internal Affairs" Review

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Raymold Avila joins the Internal Affairs Department of the Los Angeles police. He and partner Amy Wallace are soon looking closely at the activities of cop Dennis Peck whose financial holdings start to suggest something shady. The movie stars Richard Gere and Andy Garcia.
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Gangster Movie Month: "Internal Affairs" Review

-- Rating: R
Length: 115 minutes
Release Date: January 12, 1990
Directed by: Mike Figgis
Genre: Crime/Drama

"Internal Affairs" is an American crime drama that centers on the Internal Affairs division of the Los Angeles Police Department. The fictional events in the film take place from late 1989 to early 1990. Richard Gere and Andy Garcia are the leading stars in the film. Gere plays Dennis Peck, a corrupt police officer in the LAPD who manipulates other officers on the force. Garcia is Raymond Avilla, a young officer in Internal Affairs who tries to apprehend Peck.

Avilla begins working in Internal Affairs with Amy Wallace (Laurie Metcalf) as his partner. Their first case is an investigation of Van Stretch (William Baldwin), an officer with a history of using excessive force and abusing drugs. Stretch's partner is Peck, a poster boy for the LAPD who seems to know nothing of Stretch's illegal activities.

Stretch and Peck are on patrol one night when they find a van that appears to be abandoned. Stretch opens a door on the van and is immediately shot in the chest by a shotgun. A man exits the van and Peck congratulates him before shooting him. The van then speeds off and Peck notices that Stretch is still alive. Peck then strangles Stretch, making it appear as if Stretch died from his gunshot wounds.

The LAPD sets up a sting to catch the witness to Stretch's murder but someone leaks information about the operation. Two SWAT teams appear unexpectedly and the witness kills officer Dorian Fletcher (Michael Beach). A member of a SWAT team shoots the witness, who tells Avilla that Peck is Stretch's killer before he dies.

Peck later meets Kathleen Avilla (Nancy Travis) and questions her about her husband, while pretending to be a member of Internal Affairs. Avilla is following Peck and becomes enraged that Peck is talking to Kathleen. Avilla then confronts Peck, who claims that he has slept with Kathleen. Avilla meets his wife in a restaurant and slaps her before storming out.

Steven Arrocas (John Kapelos), an associate of Peck, walks into his home one night to find his wife Tova (Katherine Borowitz) having sex with Peck. Steven and Tova are both killed in the resulting confrontation, and Peck is wounded. He escapes and is later killed by Avilla when Peck tries to rape his wife.

The basic storyline in "Internal Affairs" of two characters in a life-or-death struggle will be familiar to many fans of the crime-drama genre, but the audience will leave this film feeling satisfied with the conclusion. Police films were popular in 1990, and corrupt police officers were an especially common subject. However, the strong dynamic between good cop and bad cop in this film is a rare feature. "Internal Affairs" is also unusual in that it doesn't portray Peck as irredeemably evil until later in the film.
Peck has no moral compass at all while Avilla is a completely virtuous officer at the beginning of the film. This changes as Peck begins to manipulate Avilla just as he does with everyone else he meets. The two characters begin to spiral out of control around each other as Peck slowly destroys the checks that normally prevent Avilla from showing his darker nature. The manner in which Peck causes conflict between Avilla and his wife is reminiscent of Othello, where Peck plays the part of Iago.

The film's major strengths are its pacing and atmosphere, in which director Figgis hits the mark despite minor breaks in the narrative. Figgis displays his burgeoning talent in "Internal Affairs" even though he is still five years from making his breakout film "Leaving Las Vegas." He has an innate understanding of how to keep the audience's attention, which he does throughout the film.

"Internal Affairs" is not one of Gere's best-known roles but it's his first film in which he truly demonstrates his acting ability. His best-known film prior to "Internal Affairs" was "An Officer and a Gentleman" in which he didn't garner the same praise as that of Louis Gossett Jr. and Debra Winger. Gere's acting had clearly improved in "Internal Affairs" and he obviously relished the opportunity to play the villain. This film was a turning point in Gere's career and he often outperforms Andy Garcia.

The cinematography of John A. Alonzo is especially effective at transforming modern Los Angeles into the sinister landscape that exists in crime films. It's completely unreal and corrupt yet beautiful at the same time. This seductive setting serves as the backdrop against which Avilla and Peck become less concerned about the harm they cause to other people.

Rating: 3 out of 5