Before Pulp Fiction made extinct the kind of slick crime pictures of the 80’s (though Michael Mann continues to chew on their remnants in digital form), Hollywood produced two very good ones: Internal Affairs (1990) and Deep Cover (1992). They both happened to have been written by Henry Bean. Though now, Bean has turned to independent dramas and a focus on directing, I aim to salute the crime writing of his past.
“How many cops you know, huh? Got nothing. Divorced, alcoholic, kids won’t talk to them anymore, can’t get it up. Sitting there in their little apartments, alone in the dark, playing lollipop with a service revolver?”
-Dennis Peck, played by Richard Gere
Internal Affairs, directed by Mike Figgis, stars Andy Garcia and Richard Gere. They both play cops: Garcia the internal affairs Latin do-gooder, Gere the excellent-cop with four ex-wives and his hands in drug and prostitute money. These forces collide in Bean’s screenplay, a seedy L.A. tale full of sex and deception. The character he builds in Dennis Peck is a ruthless villain as attractive as he is repulsive; he’s funny and sadistic and Gere owes screenwriter Bean his best role ever.
Still playing in the world of straightforward storytelling, what seems so refreshing in Bean’s creation is the relationships: Garcia’s lesbian partner, their interplay as well as growing affection for each other, the pathetic William Baldwin and his beat-up-not-so-innocent wife, Garcia and his wife, her sexuality tortured and ignored while he works too hard, ripe for someone like the animal that Gere plays to come in and take advantage.
There is a great scene in the last half of the picture where a fellow criminal comes home to find Gere screwing his wife. Gere smiles and unapologetically moves around the scene of the incident, the wife (a stiff European-type) is embarrassed but turned-on. The husband says, “I could kill you,” speaking to either of them or both. Gere throws him a gun and taunts him to shoot “the tramp”. The gun goes off. We don’t know who’s been shot. Suddenly Gere says, “That’s my foot.”
Henry Bean created something in Internal Affairs that will always linger with me, a kind of simple, hard crime picture I wish still got made. Specifically, he constructed in Dennis Peck a character that will revel in the bliss of evil forever, even if only in my imagination.
As a side note, Figgis’ work on this film should not be ignored. I admire him for the later, more experimental direction he took his career. But Figgis will always be Stormy Monday, Internal Affairs, and Leaving Las Vegas to me. If it was the 1940’s and I was the head of Warner, I’d confine him to the world of noir.
“This is the greatest night of my life. Terrible, terrible, but great.”
-David Jason, played by Jeff Goldblum
With Deep Cover, Bean spins a drug yarn. Honest cop Lawrence Fishburne gets recruited to go undercover. His goal is to work his way from the bottom to the top of a narcotics ring. Along the way he meets a dealer/businessman played by Jeff Goldblum. Like the Garcia/Gere relationship, this is the highlight of the film, different than the other but equally complex.
Fishburne, solid, under-appreciated and misused as he often is, plays the least interesting character of the two: he gets lost in the world of crime, sees the hypocrisy of the law, and falls for a woman on the wrong side. He is the arch but not the spice of Bean’s screenplay.
At the beginning of the film, Goldblum is just a businessman stuck in a world of rich thugs. But, in the film’s best scene, he transitions into a true criminal. When they discover that their ultra-violent boss is actually a police informant, Fishburne and Goldblum end up stuck in a limo with him in a car chase from several squad cars. I won’t say anymore; you can watch the scene.
By the end of the film, it’s hard to tell whether I want Goldblum to die or not. After the turn, he grows more and more sadistic, but his evil is too much fun to watch. Again what seems fresh in Bean’s work is not the originality of the plot but the interactions and depths of the characters.
What Henry Bean so clearly provided in these two cop classics was the opportunity for good actors to take on great roles. Never have either Goldblum or Gere been better and it is the duality of attraction and repulsion that Bean breathed into the script that allowed them to exist.