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DVD ReviewOften cop movies degenerate into buddy movies, where there is an almost total exclusion of women except as window dressing. Fort Apache, The Bronx, while it has a strong central story, goes much too far the other way, getting bogged down in extraneous romances and thereby completely losing its momentum.
In the war zone of the South Bronx, the police of the 41st Precinct are both under siege and part of the system of crime on the streets. Taking bribes and shaking down the civilians is part of business as usual. Murphy (Paul Newman) is an essentially decent and honest cop trying to survive on the streets, with the help of his clotheshorse partner, Corelli (Ken Wahl). When two rookie cops are killed (by Pam Grier as an angel-dust-addicted hooker), things suddenly get tough as the police want to make it clear that it's not open season on the cops. Added to the mix is a new by-the-book captain, Dennis Connolly (Ed Asner) who doesn't know how to relate to the civilians of the precinct and makes waves at every turn within the precinct. Before long, there are riots in the streets, violence and arson. When fellow officer Morgan (Danny Aiello) blows his top and throws an innocent kid off a building, Murphy must face his conscience and deal with the code of silence that requires him not to rat on his fellow officers.
You'll notice that my synopsis skipped over the romances. Murphy starts dating a nurse (Rachel Ticotin) who happens to be a heroin addict, and Corelli is involved with a girl who may or may not be underage (Kathleen Beller). While some of these materials help flesh out the characters, it's taken to a ridiculous extreme here. We get endless, lengthy scenes of the two cops with their women friends, playing with children (whose, is not clear), etc. to the point of derailing the picture altogether. This is a shame, because the film has some strong sociopolitical statements to make and features an intriguing story with genuine moral dilemmas. This isn't simply a Stallone buddy flick that has two-dimensional characters. The added footage feels like padding that gets in the way of what's being said.
Newman puts on a decent performance as Murphy, the tormented, honest cop. Asner is his usual gruff and cranky self, although after all those years of Lou Grant, it's definitely hard to hear him adopt a Bronx accent through the cheesy mechanism of using 'axe' for 'ask.' Pam Grier is a lot of fun as the tripping hooker with a murderous streak, and she completely steals the show whenever she's onscreen. Unfortunately, that's not very often. The time spent focusing on Ticotin and Beller's characters would have been better served giving us background on Grier's Christine.
The cinematography is generally unimaginative, but there are some effective sequences of the bombed out, burned out Bronx that looks like a war zone. The worst part of the film is the trashy TV-cop jazz music that starts playing during the chase scenes. It's poorly done and sounds bad to boot, making these sequences seem utterly ridiculous.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: The nonanamorphic picture is highly unsatisfactory. Many of the scenes are excessively dark and completely lacking in detail. Much of the film is very soft and definition is wanting. Color is decent. The scenes that take place in a smoky bar look terribly digital and are full of compression artifacts. The source print isn't in the best shape either, but an RSDL anamorphic presentation surely would have looked much better than what we have here.
Image Transfer Grade: D
Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono track is undistinguished, noisy, hissy and tends to have significant distortion, often affecting the dialogue. While the hiss is the least prominent problem, it is still quite obvious and unpleasant.
Audio Transfer Grade: D+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Extras Review: The only notable extra is a set of bios and filmographies for the principal cast, director Daniel Petrie and screenwriter Heywood Gould (who also wrote The Boys From Brazil). They are quite lengthy and the select filmographies rather thorough. The menu is designed to permit one to cruise these cast and crew materials with the finger on the enter button, which scores some bonus points. English, French and Spanish subtitles are also provided; they are mostly onscreen so viewers with 16:9 televisions will only lose descenders from a few letters with the subtitles on. Chaptering is very good as well.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsWhat could have been a compelling drama gets sidetracked by romantic interludes, though there are some noteworthy performances. Unfortunately, a poor transfer makes it a hard disc to watch or listen to. Worth a rental, maybe.
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