There are “Cop Movies” and than there are cop movies which break the mould and give you a whole lot more sympathy for the people involved in their line of work. For some reason the latter category are usually ones where the tension level is leavened by the introduction of comedy and the humanization of the parties involved.
Gun Shy is probably one of the best examples of the later genre on the market. Written and Directed by Eric Blakeney and staring Liam Neeson, Oliver Platt, and Sandra Bullock this year 2000 release has the right combination of comedy, pathos, and action to make the whole scenario believable.
Liam Neeson plays Charlie a Drug Enforcement Agent (DEA) whose current assignment took a turn for the worse when he and his partner were set up. He had to sit through his partner’s murder, and his life was only saved by the not so timely arrival of the surveillance squad assigned to protect them in case of problems.
Needless to say he’s developed “issues” about his career and his safety when it comes to continuing the assignment. His bosses assure him that everything will be fine; all the bad guys who knew he was an agent are dead. No harm no foul. Charlie’s not convinced and the state of his nerves and his intestinal track are testament to that.
A chance meeting on a plane flight brings Charlie in contact with a psychiatrist. From that point on the movie splits into following three aspects of Charlie’s life; his interpersonal relationships with two Columbia Cartel representatives, a Mafioso hit man (Oliver Platt), and a money launderer; his group therapy sessions; and his burgeoning relationship with the woman who gave him a barium enema (Sandra Bullock) when his shrink sent him for gastrointestinal testing.
Charlie’s job is to act as the go between with a Mafia family and the Columbians in a money laundering operation. His bosses want him to ensure that the Columbians sink as much money possible into the venture so they can be arrested and have all their financial resources sucked dry.
Charlie is only able to get through these encounters by ingesting a steady amount of anti anxiety meds. The fact that he is able to fall asleep with a gun being waved in his face impresses Fulvio Neestra, the Mafia hit man immensely. He’s never met anyone as cool and intelligent as Charlie.
Oliver Platt as Fulvio is wonderful. He looks and talks like a psychopathic Neanderthal, with a bouffant greaser hair cut. At first he looks like just your standard stereotypical thug. But then we learn he’s married to the Don’s daughter and kept alive only on sufferance, the fact that he suffers the Don’s daughter.
Like Charlie, Fulvio wants out, behind that psychotic veneer lurks the heart of a farmer. His dream is to retire to Italy and grow tomatoes. The beauty of Mr. Platt’s performance is that he plays him completely straight. This guy has the intelligence of a pea, and a hair trigger temper. When one of the Columbians comments on his inability to urinate by saying his prostrate needs a workout, Fluvio shoots off one of his testicles. “When somebody starts making fun of your prostrate, what are you going to do?” is his explanation.
But we end up liking him. He’s henpecked by an unloving wife, his father in law treats him like shit, and the tomatoes he’s so desperately trying to grow in his backyard continue to die. When everything starts to blow up near the end of the movie and he looks at Charlie and says: “You’re a cop? I thought you were my friend?” the disappointment and unhappiness are real and poignant.
Charlie enters group therapy at his doctor’s suggestion. A chance to put his problems in perspective, and see that he’s not so different than others. His group is comprised of other men the same age who are all experiencing anxiety and anguish over their jobs. One after another they talk about how downtrodden and powerless they feel.
When Charlie is asked to “share” he starts by saying the root of his anxiety is his job; everyone nods and smiles. As he starts describing the circumstances of the events: “I was laid out on a platter with an Uzi stuck up my ass” the camera pans around the faces of the paunchy, slightly balding men in suits who are in group with him.
To a man they are stunned, jaw dropped to the floor, smacked in the face with a two by four stunned. But gradually over the course of the sessions and Charlie taking them through the various stages of the meetings, deals, and shootings. They start to get excited and awed by what this guy does, until their own anxieties seem trivial to themselves.
But in a nice turn, the focus is shifted back on to one of the members of the group when he snaps at work one day and self-destructs. He had suffered from an almost irrepressible urge to start shouting completely inappropriate things during meetings and finally had snapped. It’s a wonderfully human moment done with perfect balance and timing.
In a movie full of nice turns this one exemplifies how the director manages to prevent the action plot line from gaining ascension over the fact that these people are human beings. The men in the group are reminded that their own live have just as many perils in some ways as Charlie’s does and that things can blow up on them too.
I have always had a hard time suspending my disbelief at the way people in movies are thrown together romantically. Unfortunately Gun Shy is no exception. Man goes for barium enema, pretty girl who gives it to him offers him drive home, asks him out on date, they have sex and start a relationship on first date.
That may happen in some universes but not mine. But once the awkwardness of their meeting is overcome their relationship helps provide another contrasting reality for Charlie to consider. Ms. Bullock’s character of Judy is a fairly typical spunky Sandra Bullock character but it’s early enough in her career that she is still able to keep it fresh.
Primarily it feel like this plotline is just tacked on as love interest, and considering she was the executive producer on the movie you have to wonder if the roll was created for her. There is a funny little bit where she and Charlie bump into his “work buddies” at a restaurant and we have the incongruity of watching them all discussing a home show like any group of upwardly mobile young executives. But aside from that this plot line seems somewhat extraneous.
Liam Neeson in the role of Charlie is wonderful. He is able to bring believability to every aspect of his character; from the thin veneer he has on display for the consumption of those he works with, his developing friendship with Fulvio, and his genuine compassion for the other people in his group therapy sessions.
He’s a man walking a very fine line between completely losing it and holding it together. Through his character we see a side of police work that is either rarely depicted or so overblown as to be unbelievable. The real anxiety and stress that comes with being under the continual pressure your life being in danger.
This movie combines comedy, suspense and pathos to create a very real and human picture of people caught in circumstances they can’t control, but have to keep working through because they think they have no choice. It’s a cop movie, but not like any cop movie you’ve seen before. Everybody from the villains to the hero is human and real.
I’ll leave it to one of the group therapy members to sum up the movie in a nutshell: “You mean even the gangsters are unhappy?”