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When He's Good, He's Really Good. When He's Bad, He's Awesome

By Ted Boynton | Boozehound Cinephile | October 8, 2009 |

By Ted Boynton | Boozehound Cinephile | October 8, 2009 |

Pop Culture Item Consumed: Internal Affairs, a nasty little suspense thriller from 1990 featuring Richard Gere in a rare villain role as a highly decorated but deeply corrupt cop. A fresh-faced Andy Garcia plays the Internal Affairs officer investigating Gere’s web of corruption, back when Garcia was promising way more than his career actually delivered. Also: Nancy Travis in tight skirts! Am I the only one who cares about that?

Beverage Consumed: The Dark and Stormy, a fine tankard of grog for rainy nights and violent cop movies. To prepare a Dark and Stormy, pour two or three shots of good dark rum into a highball glass, on the rocks. Top off with ginger beer, stir to chill, and add a lime wedge after giving it a good squeeze over the glass — the cocktail shouldn’t taste like lime juice, so just give it a squirt of bitter citrus to set off the sweeter flavors. For the booze, I like Myers’ Dark from Jamaica, but there are plenty of choices out there; just don’t use a light-colored rum, as it does not blend well with ginger beer and ends up looking like a pint of jaundiced piss. Ginger beer is often not available at large supermarkets, but more sophisticated liquor stores and gourmet markets typically have at least one choice. Reed’s Premium Ginger Brew is widely available and provides a spicy ginger kick that’s just right.

You may run across recipes for the Dark and Stormy that include ginger ale as an ingredient, and this type of transgression is why Pajiba keeps me around to protect you. Using ginger ale in a Dark and Stormy is like using vodka to make a martini: Do it if you must, but don’t sully the genuine article’s good name with your questionable choice of acquaintances.

Summary of Action: I can’t remember whether it’s cool to like Richard Gere this week, but I’ll admit that I’m completely in the tank for him: Gere is one of the best mainstream actors working today. There, I said it. I’m not blind to The Mothman Prophecies or Runaway Bride — if he has any sense of himself as an artist, he really needs a better filter on his project selection. His record is littered with middling films where he plays exactly what one would expect, either the intriguing, possibly dangerous lothario (Mr. Jones, Sommersby, Shall We Dance) or a cliché Hollywood leading man (Dr. T and the Women, Unfaithful).

Yet, for an actor who has a bit of a reputation as a pandering commercial whore — somewhat justified by movies like Autumn in New York and Nights in Rodanthe — Gere’s filmography reveals a multi-faceted talent unafraid to take on roles well outside his perceived sphere of ability. In the early ’90s, after a decade of epitomizing raw sexual energy in movies like American Gigolo and An Officer and a Gentleman, something entirely unexpected happened to Gere: He not only aged gracefully, he actually got better looking and more charismatic as he matured, his thick, wavy hair turning a salty silver and his squinty, crows-footed face maturing into a middle-aged gravitas that would allow him to expand his range into serious lead roles, at least when he could be bothered to choose good ones. Gere spent the next fifteen years proving his mettle across a variety of genres, from pulpy suspense films (Primal Fear) to big, splashy musicals (Chicago); from obscure, Russell-Crowe-esque bio-pics (The Hoax) to small, interesting art flicks (I’m Not There, The Hunting Party).

Gere made Internal Affairs just at the turn in that trajectory, and the film is fascinating for several reasons. First, it’s the only film in Gere’s career in which he plays a flat-out bad guy, a vicious, twisted cop with no redeeming qualities. Closely related to this rare turn as a villain, in Internal Affairs Gere pulls off the rare feat of becoming the movie in which someone else is the lead. Perhaps the greatest example of this trick is The Silence of the Lambs, for which Anthony Hopkins won a Best Actor Oscar even though the role of Hannibal Lecter was clearly not a lead. Hopkins appears in fewer than a third of Silence’s scenes, yet his presence looms over every image and conversation. While Gere’s bad lieutenant isn’t at the level of either Hopkins or Lecter, Gere’s persona envelops Internal Affairs to the point where Andy Garcia essentially appears to be roaming around Gere’s unconscious mind, like Jennifer Lopez invading Vincent D’Onofrio’s psychotic dreams in The Cell. Garcia’s ambitious cop leaps in with both feet, and the result is a raw gunshot of a film in which a professional confrontation between two alpha males turns into a mutual personal vendetta that can only end with the complete destruction of one of them.

Internal Affairs opens with Garcia reporting for his new assignment in the LAPD Internal Affairs bureau, assigned to a crusty, cynical partner played with gusto and humor by Laurie Metcalf (“Roseanne”). Their first investigation together, a civilian brutality complaint against one of Garcia’s academy classmates (William Baldwin), leads them to Baldwin’s partner, Gere, as a possible witness. Although Gere is well-respected in the department and highly decorated for his accomplishments on the force, Garcia and Metcalf press harder when they discover that Gere’s police officer salary appears to be supporting several women and multiple children in a suspiciously comfortable lifestyle. As Garcia and Metcalf dig, they become consumed by an investigation that reveals Gere as a ganglord within the police department, using favors, payoffs, and brutality to spin a broad web of profitable criminal activity. When Gere senses their pursuit, he sets out to bring his own style of pressure to bear on Garcia.

Garcia does solid work as the brash young Latino cop with a brush cut and a chip on his shoulder. Although Garcia’s wife (Nancy Travis) adores him, their marriage has hit a rough patch as Garcia has become more and more involved with his job, a problem aggravated by his obsession with his new assignment. For his part, Garcia’s passion for Travis, a gorgeous art gallery director, has begun to smolder into jealousy as her dedication to her clients and social events eats away at her devotion to her husband. When Gere does some investigating of his own into Garcia’s personal life, he cleverly turns the tables on Garcia, setting up a series of cat and mouse confrontations that become steadily more vicious and violent.

As good as Garcia is, Internal Affairs is Gere’s film all the way. Director Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas) brilliantly capitalizes on Gere’s high-voltage, low-flash charisma, with Gere padding muscularly through the film like a panther, stalking smoothly and silently (and oh-so-sexually) before springing explosively on his prey. Gere renders the character all the more frightening because of his built-in goodwill with audiences; the character’s success depends heavily on people wanting to like this guy, wanting to close their eyes to the litany of dirty deeds behind his badge, and Gere has such credibility as a likeable but volatile actor that he disappears right into the role. Internal Affairs was an early indicator of the depth and sophistication Gere can bring to a complicated ensemble part, and it’s required viewing for anyone seeking to understand his career.

Tastes Like: Two parts smoky Cuban molasses; three parts spicy, whispering allure; garnish with a spritz of bitter reality. Pause to calculate odds that Nancy Travis has no panties on under those slinky little skirts.

Overall Rating: Two officers; no gentlemen.

Ted Boynton is usually picked last for kickball, mostly because he treats it as an opportunity to lounge in the outfield with a bottle of rye and a Lone Star - there’s no “I” in “team,” but there are at least two in “inebriation.” Ted also manages to hold down a job and a wife, three hours each per day, whether they need it or not. Readers may scold, hector, admonish or taunt Ted by e-mailing him at [email protected]

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