Thursday, October 28, 2010

Roberto Faenza's Copkiller AKA Order of Death AKA Corrupt

Any movie that has Harvey Keitel beating Johnny Rotten and shouting "You want me to kill you? You want me to kill you?" is good.

Huh? Harvey Keitel and John Lydon of the Sex Pistols fame in the same film? Yes, it's happened once - and it's the only feature film Lydon appears in. "What film?" you ask. Ever heard of Roberto Faenza's Copkiller? It might be better known as Order of Death, the original European releasing title, or Corrupt (or even Corrupt Lieutenant). I hadn't heard of it, when I bought it for ten cents at a thrift store some months back. It had Harvey Keitel, and I thought, sure I'll buy this, even though the ugly VHS cassette looked cheap and ugly.

The film isn't very cheap, but it is ugly. Someone's killing drug cops with a kitchen knife. Keitel is a neurotic lieutenant in the drug department. He leads a double life, living in a luxurious (but empty) apartment with another cop. John Lydon is a creep, who gets obsessed about Keitel and starts following him. He comes to Keitel and claims he's the cop killer. Keitel beats Lydon and locks him up in the bathroom of his luxury apartment. Complications ensue. The ending is very, very baffling.

Copkiller is somewhere between an European art film (the director Faenza is Italian, a late-comer to the new Italian cinema, starting out only in the seventies) and a hardboiled American cop film, without any of the cop film clichés. Keitel's edgy nervousness is all over the scenery, and watching him one feels like he's ready to start punching anybody. No explanations to anyone's actions are given, not even in the end. There's a scene (with charming Sylvia Sidney as the grandmother) where Lydon's character's past is being explained, but in the end all the explanations are futile. This is a hard-hitting film that will leave you gasping for breath.

Copkiller is not an entirely successful film in the whole, but I think it has something to do with the film's troubled production history: it was made already in 1981, but released only in 1984, mainly due to the troubles Lydon had with his band, Public Image Limited. They had done the soundtrack for the film, but the studio was keeping the movie on the shelves for some reason or another. There were also some complications with some of the members of the band, and the soundtrack was never used. Instead there's a very nice and eerie score by none other than Ennio Morricone, using an electric bass, a horn section and some toy horns or some such. The versions available (I'm not sure if this is released in DVD*) are much shorter than the original length. The version I saw was somewhat over 90 minutes, while Faenza's cut was somewhere around 113 minutes. I believe the missing scenes contain dialogue between Keitel and Lydon - there's not much of that in the 90-minute version I saw, and yet someone complains at IMDb that the film has too much talk and not enough action. Those missing scenes might've explained some of the baffling stuff that takes place in the film. All this having said, I must say that some of the scenes are a bit clumsy and the action of the police in the end seems stupid.

This is based on a novel by Hugh Fleetwood. I've read the one Finnish translation from him, Melkein tavallinen tyttö (The Girl Who Passed for Normal, 1973), his first novel, but it was 20 years ago and I can't remember anything about it. Having seen this I'll try to find the book - and maybe some other novels by Fleetwood as well. I don't recall seeing any discussion on him at any crime fiction blog or other crime fiction venues. Fleetwood is also credited with the screenplay.

* Seems like it is, but under the stupid title Corrupt Lieutenant, in the series that's called The Bad Cop Chronicles. Looks like the film can be downloaded via many peer-to-peer sites, but I won't direct you to them. 

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