Stars: 3.8 of 5.
Running Time: 109 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Michael Boatman (CELEBRITY MOLE HAWAII, HAMBURGER HILL), Lori Petty (POINT BREAK, TANK GIRL), Ice Cube (GHOSTS OF MARS, THREE KINGS), Bernie Casey (IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, SHARKY'S MACHINE), Richard Anderson (THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, FORBIDDEN PLANET), Michael Ironside (TOTAL RECALL, EXTREME PREJUDICE), M. Emmett Walsh (BLOOD SIMPLE, STRAIGHT TIME), Erich Anderson (FRIDAY THE 13TH PART IV, MISSING IN ACTION), Wanda de Jesus (BLOOD WORK, THE INSIDER), Don Harvey (CREEPSHOW 2, DIE HARD 2), Tommy Redmond Hicks (SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT, JOE'S BED-STUY BARBERSHOP). Cinematography by Elliot Davis (SHAKES THE CLOWN, OUT OF SIGHT).
Tag-line: "In a world filled with violence... his only weapon is the truth!"
Best one-liner: "Puttin' in a little overtime, Fields?" (malevolently uttered by Michael Ironside)
Charles Burnett is one of America's greatest, most underrated independent filmmakers. His film KILLER OF SHEEP has recently undergone a critical rediscovery, and his masterpiece, TO SLEEP WITH ANGER, is a work of great power and possibly the finest entry in the "houseguest from hell" subgenre. Seriously, I can't recommend TO SLEEP WITH ANGER enough– it weaves FAUST, Southern folklore, realistic family dynamics, and Danny Glover's finest, most devilish performance into a corn-whisky-stained tapestry of down-home tension (with frequent humor!). Not available on DVD, I was able to finally see TO SLEEP WITH ANGER at the Museum of Modern Art's (in NYC) retrospective of Burnett's work. So rent the VHS, because it's worth it.
Anyway, that leads me to my next point. After ANGER failed to achieve the financial success that it deserved, Burnett decided to try something a little more commercial. Enter THE GLASS SHIELD. A muck-raking, Southern Cali true-crime tract in the mode that would define such later films as L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, TRAINING DAY, and DARK BLUE, THE GLASS SHIELD tells the tale of a black rookie cop who discovers terrifying levels of corruption in the Sheriff's office where he's been assigned. Marketed as an Ice Cube vehicle (which it's really not), it's a crime drama packed with talented character actors... including Michael Ironside. And so, a fan of Burnett's, I swung by the Museum of Modern Art once more- to see a Michael Ironside movie at the MOMA. It was truly a momentous occasion, and I don't foresee it happening again, at least until MOMA does a HIGHLANDER retrospective (fingers crossed).
On the whole, THE GLASS SHIELD isn't quite as hard-hitting as it wants to be, but it's still quite an enjoyable film. We've got Michael Boatman as the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed recent academy graduate who's about to enter a racially-charged quagmire of dirty cops and dirtier D.A.'s where no one can emerge unsullied.
As the corrupt buddy-detectives, we have M. Emmet Walsh
and Michael Ironside.
Seeing these two giants of character acting playing evil buddies truly warmed my heart. Walsh is a terminally ill good-ole boy wanting to provide for his family. He plays it with that standard 'goobery Walsh élan' which the man is well-known for. Ironside fans will find a lot to like as well: we see him holdin' a baby, making a ship in a bottle, saying "about" in such a manner that betrays his Canadian origins, and headlining his own bowling team called the 'Rough Riders.'
MICHAEL IRONSIDE IS KEEPING AN EYE ON YOU
As a team, Walsh and Ironside make a pretty fantastic, villainous peanut gallery, and, as a mind-blowing coup de grâce of things one should never see, Michael Ironside and M. Emmett Walsh share a make-out session. Well, actually, that's something of a lie: Michael Ironside performs CPR on M. Emmett Walsh, but you have to admit it sounds a little more newsworthy when I phrase it the other way. Anyways...
Then we got that staple of the early 90's: Lori Petty playing Lori Petty... that is to say a misfit, no-nonsense, spunky l'il lady with a short haircut.
I have to mention that she and Michael Ironside also co-starred in 1993's FREE WILLY, and he chose her to star in the only movie he's ever directed, 1999's THE ARRANGEMENT. They had to have been buddies. I like to imagine Lori Petty in a redneck bar, perhaps uttering something smart-assed and offensive, drawing the ire of like a dozen lead-pipe-wrench-slinging guys in Confederate flag bandanas. They circle her and chuckle, nefariously. Then Ironside shows up and starts beating the hell out of them as Lori Petty gulps purloined Black Label, straight from the tap. If somebody wants to turn this into a buddy movie, I will gladly pay to see it.
Then there's Ice Cube as a fall guy. Mr. Cube brings some genuine pathos to the role- as films like THREE KINGS and even GHOSTS OF MARS have indicated, he's got some acting chops and an innate likability even when he's playing sort of unlikable characters.
On the right there is Don Harvey as a redunkulously racist, simple-minded cop. You may remember him as the Kevin Bacon-meets-Peter Weller villainous sidekick from "Ol' Chief Woodenhead" in CREEPSHOW 2.
Then there's some nice, featured-supporting turns for Elliott Gould (as a crime victim...or is he?), Bernie Casey (as a severe defense attorney), Sy Richardson (as Ice Cube's father-in-law), Tommy Redmond Hicks (as a crusading preacher), and Richard Anderson (as the corrupt police chief). The cinematography by Elliot Davis is moody, shadowy, and possessing a deep, rich color palette. Also of note is Stephen James Taylor's minimalist score, full of ominous tones and disquieting screeches.
There are some scenes that ring rather false, and there's use of that old standby corrupt cop movie cliché "Dont...trust...anybody," but on the whole, it's entertainment + muck-raking in a tight, well-constructed package. I have no problem giving it nearly four stars.