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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Glass Shield: Collector's Series
The Glass Shield: Collector's Series
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // PG-13 // August 16, 2005
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Don Houston | posted August 22, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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Movie: One of the most prevalent types of film made over the years is the cop film. Sometimes the movie deals with a couple of buddies (Lethal Weapon series), sometimes with a lone wolf styled cop (Dirty Harry series), and sometimes it deals with the anachronistic position of police officer in a social progressive world (Demolition Man) but there are almost always common themes explored in this genre. Over the last twenty to thirty years or so, the main thrust of such movies has been the so-called "bad" cop. My guess is that such a movie appeals to the fringe elements of society that prey on the rest of us, feeds the self fulfilling prophecies of various minority groups that somehow can't seem to succeed while others do so (thanks mostly to hard work and not wanting handouts), and the self hating liberals that hate the idea of a group of governmental enforcement units empowered to instill order out of chaos. In general, police are the ultimate garbage men; doing what we don't want to do and handling those situations we can't muster the courage to handle, all with their handguns and "thin blue line" of dedication to their own ranks. This is the subject of today's review of The Glass Shield: Collector's Series.

The box cover would have you believe that the movie stars talented actor Ice Cube but he's relegated to the tiny role of oppressed black victim this time. Personally, I don't see him as believable in this type of role since he's proven his strength in so many past roles that transcend this kind of position for him but as I said, it's a small role so it wasn't the reason why the movie stunk so much. No, the honor for that lies primarily in the weaker than average script that had Michael Boatman playing a rookie cop (Johnny Johnson). Johnny is given a preferential assignment at graduation due solely to his race, skipping the formalities of "best man for the job" in favor of a political appointment. He soon finds out that being the first black man in a small, cohesive police station isn't the cherry position he sought but at least he finds solace in the fact that the first woman at the station (Lori Petty playing Deborah Fields) came just before him. Those around him find his lack of proper procedure, poor writing skills, and general demeanor to be something less than they wanted, although about what they expected in their latest rookie (he made many mistakes in his reports, nearly got a fellow cop killed, etc.).

The main story really starts after a man's wife is killed, allegedly by a black street thug, during a robbery. The man is played by veteran actor Elliot Gould, finding himself in a terrible role, looking as uncomfortable as I've ever seen him (how far the mighty have fallen). His version of what took place is stoic, doesn't sound quite right, and leads Deborah into thinking something is amiss. By this time in the movie though, Johnny has become acclimated to the culture of policing, seeking to become part of the group instead of a pariah (alienating his family, friends, former identity, and adopting that of his co-workers instead). Apparently, police distrust outsiders to the point where you have to prove yourself before being accepted and the minor racial jabs the movie took at the mean old white cops to this point all would've had the viewer believing their was a not so silent wall that Johnny would never pass through. When Johnny lies on the stand to convict a felon in possession of a firearm (again, in a tiny role by Ice Cube), his race no longer matters to his fellow officers; showing the bonds of brotherhood aren't about race so much as a distinctive culture. Unfortunately, convicting a possibly innocent man just to fit in doesn't sit well with Johnny after he thinks about it more. Together with Deborah, the two set off to uncover a larger conspiracy, punctuated with courtroom drama, and make things right.

The movie was full of the same stereotypes you'll hear from the downtrodden of the world and upon listening to the director's commentary, I found he actually believed the story line as a routine occurrence rather than coming off as a sly social commentator as he might have otherwise been able to do. The multitude of problems the movie had ranged from the dreadfully slow pacing of the courtroom drama to the completely unsupported exposition the two lead characters would go into at the drop of a hat. While I claim to be less than an expert in police procedure, I didn't see a lot of realism in how many aspects of the movie were handled in or out of the courtroom; leading me to think that director Charles Burnett was more interested in pandering to his supposed audience than providing something more than a generic boilerplate "cops are bad" message film. I'd have had little problem with that aspect of the movie had it been done better (there are scores of such movies on the market at any given time) but the one trick pony nature of the movie made it clear that "all" cops are bad and the entire justice system (thanks in large part to evil prosecutors and insensitive judges assisting the efforts of the bad old laws) was beyond repair.

Perhaps if the story could stick to one theme and play it better, the movie wouldn't have been so lopsided. Maybe if the wild eyed innocence of the two rookies wasn't such a crucial plot point in the movie (Deborah had 8 months on and Johnny was fresh out of the police academy yet they were both far superior to all those seasoned vets; seasoned by far brighter than the likes of a couple of rookies, I'm sure), I could overlook a few of the procedural flaws of the movie but the bottom line for me is that if you're going to make a movie so biased against public servants, at least try to make it original and not a poor rehash of everything that's gone on before. This one might win an award from the Rodney King Foundation but any sensible person is going to think it's worth a rating of Skip It at best, given the movie of the week approach it took.

Picture: The Glass Shield: Collector's Series was presented in the same 1.85:1 ratio full frame color it was shot in by director Charles Burnett back in 1994. This version of the DVD was in anamorphic widescreen, although I can't say if it was an improvement over the previous version(s) since I never saw them. The picture looked kind of average to me with numerous lighting flaws that caused some grain and flesh tone anomalies. The focus was usually solid but not always and some better editing might've helped iron out some of the jarring cutaways on display here. There was a bit of video noise and a few compression artifacts on occasion but the print scratches were far more plentiful and noticeable to me. In all, it was okay to look at but nothing special.

Sound: The audio was presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital English (with an optional Spanish track for those wanting a really weak dub). There was some nice separation between the channels but the dynamic limitations were glaring as a result. The vast majority of the movie was full of dialogue and a decent supporting score but neither set itself apart from television shows made when this originally came out over ten years ago. Fans of scores will appreciate that the composer, Stephen Scott Taylor, was not only a part of the audio commentary but had a short little featurette over viewing the scoring of the film as well. If you told me the handful of distinguishable riffs used cost as much as the rest of the movie (sans the salaries of the actors of course), I'd believe it, even if I wished for more.

Extras: The DVD cover boasted "all new, never before seen bonus material" and this being a Collector Edition from Miramax, I was inclined to check it all out. The primary extra was an audio commentary with director Charles Burnett and composer Stephen Scott Taylor. The two discussed the technical aspects as much as the sociological place it held in their eyes, which was the main reason why I kept listening. Mr. Burnett seemed to believe the crud about crooked cops he espoused and while I'm not saying some of the events in the movie couldn't have taken place, it seemed like he piled on every charge of misconduct ever made into this one movie (if limited to a handful of such events, the credibility factor would've soared and made for a more interesting premise than clubbing the audience to death with them). The following extra was a short featurette with Mr. Burnett describing the movie but it seemed to be a condensed version of the commentary. There was a semi-interesting extra called Film Scoring with Stephen Scott Taylor, that gave some insights into the movie's soundtrack and a trailer finished off the extras.

Final Thoughts: The Glass Shield: Collector's Series may find great accolades in the depressed urban areas of the world that are full of people wanting to blame some nebulous "man" (while understated, the term refers to "white man") for all the ills they face. Their joblessness, incarceration rate, limited opportunities, and other social problems are all the result of a corrupt system designed specifically to put them down and keep them down (cough!) at the hands of societal enforcers such as police officers. To them, the cops on The Andy Griffith Show are a white, middle class fantasy and I'm sure there's some truth to their cries of anguish but not enough to overlook the severe limitations of movies like The Glass Shield: Collector's Series so I reiterate that a rating of Skip It unless you want to see one of the least balanced versions of law enforcement (outside of a recruiting video made by the Los Angeles Police Department). Director Charles Burnett had his heart in the right place but let his desire to throw everything he could think of into the pot to simmer proved a problematic look at the subject matter.

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