The Plot: Roy Fehler (Stacy Keach) is a rookie on the police force who has set himself up so that he can work the streets at night for money in order to raise his family, and then go to classes for law school during the day. After his first night on the job though, right alongside Kilvinski (George C. Scott) he finds his home. Kilvinski shows him how dangerous it can be to be a police officer, but also how good and honest it can be when done with some compassion. Roy finds himself falling in love with the streets, and finding himself at odds with law school as well as his wife who starts to feel a seperation between the two of them. Will the badge drive Roy away from everything he used to love dearly, or will he find a center peace and resolve?
The Review: If there are two draws that will generally grab my interest; the first has to be crime cinema. Not necessarily from the point of the criminal either, police officers on the beat, detectives hunting down mad men or generally anything pertaining to that sort of thing. I suppose in some fashion we’re all intrigued with those who would oppose the law, and those who are sworn to protect it. The other thing I mentioned that pretty much guarantees my interest comes from any film featuring George C. Scott. I’ve already reviewed Hardcore here on the site, and aim to someday put The Excorcist III here amongst other works of his. There’s just something about the man, his gravelly voice and his ability to deliver lines with such earnest conviction. I don’t believe American cinema has ever seen another actor quite like him.
Although Scott doesn’t take the main role here in The New Centurions, his supporting role is felt throughout the entire film and his character’s passion pushes the film into being something other than the ordinary. The New Centurions shows police officers in a different kind of light, they are portrayed as fully human here and the men who step behind the badge are shown as being fiercely devoted. Not surprising, the film’s author Joseph Wambaugh did serve as a police officer before becoming an acclaimed novelist and found his career focused on that same devotion to the law and the police force, with his most popular books being therough examinations about the job of protection such as in this film. Dealing mostly with “the job” and how these men do their best to deal with it, as well as the strain it has on their lives. Much of the drama within The New Centurions deals with the wonderful Stacy Keach and his character Roy, who finds himself at odds with his wife who can’t understand his passion and devotion for the job. A devotion that may end up getting him killed, and has drawn him away from what could have been a very financially successful career as an attorney.
The cast only needs to be mentioned by name, when you see George C. Scott and Stacy Keach as the two stars – you know that performances are going to be top notch. Stacy Keach is the real shining star here as the subdued Roy, as she shows at first a true love for the work of a police officer – and slowly moves away from his predestined goals and into a new area he never expected to go into. The whole film is a blank portrait that Keach is able to paint upon with his performance as a man of confusion who slowly learns his own truth. It really makes you stop and wonder what ever happened to Keach, and at what point did the Hollywood machine decide he was not capable of carrying a leading role and was a more suitable character actor? Perhaps it was his cocaine arrest in the eighties, and then his surgence in television movies/shows. Keach however cemented his status as one of the best American actors with films such as this and The Ninth Configuration, it’s just a shame he hasn’t had as much room in his career as of late to flex those talents.
The heart of New Centurions is its consistant devotion to showing us a fact based reality of just what this job entails. We start with the new recruits who over time become hardened veterans, but all the way through we are shown that it’s just a job. Occasionally instances of action pop up, but most of the time we just see these officers having to break up prostitutes, seperate quarraling couples and stop cars for traffic violations. There’s no crazed lunatics on the loose killing the innocent or serial killing psychopaths targeting the police. The New Centurions is as by-the-books as the officers it portrays, but is a stronger film for it by giving us a factual and more realistic approach to this exciting occupation, and in the meantime we grow attached to these officers who go out there and put their lives on the line to do what they think is right. Is it possibly a utopian vision of law enforcement? Maybe. With no police officers being shown as power hungry or jerks toward the civillians they come in contact with. However, just because some of us have been treated pretty unfairly by some police officers before (I had two cops a few months ago pull me over, harrass me and insult me personally) doesn’t mean that by and large this is the way things are. Since then I have had to turn to several police officers who I now count as friends myself, so not having that element in the film is something I find easy to forgive.
The New Centurions takes on that seventies air of pessimism that was so alluring in cop/crime films of that era. Working as a slice of life portrayal of police officers on duty as they settle out into their new lives, it’s a side of the law viewers aren’t used to seeing and is simply a tremendous film full of great performances from some of the best American actors of that time and place. If you’re a fan of seventies filmmaking, police/crime films or if you’re like me and just obsessed with George C. Scott – you’ll want to see this. I give it a four out of five, and say I must find myself continually amazed with the film and the lack of people talking about it. Definitely check it out, you won’t be disappointed.