ICYMI: Internal Affairs (1990)
The career of Richard Gere has seen him blossom from mega hunk in films like Looking for Mr. Goodbar and American Gigolo to serious actor in the iconic An Officer and a Gentleman to bankable box office romantic lead in Pretty Woman to bonafide triple threat in his Golden Globe winning performance as Billy Flynn in 2002’s Chicago. His good looks may have earned him his initial attention and early success but his undeniable acting talent and ability to emotionally transform himself into an array of memorable characters has been the key to his longevity. Just think, the same actor that was perfectly cast in the lead of American Gigolo found himself almost two decades later believably playing Diane Lane’s cuckolded husband in Unfaithful.
The film where I knew for sure that Mr. Gere was much more than a pretty face was his Iago-inspired work as LAPD officer Dennis Peck in 1990’s Internal Affairs. Released just two months before the blockbuster Pretty Woman, the film gave him one of his meatiest roles as a corrupt officer playing successful mind games with his investigator – Andy Garcia’s Raymond Avila. The film was directed by Mike Figgis fresh off the critical success that was Stormy Monday and but a few years before the award season darling that was 1995’s Leaving Las Vegas. On the surface, Internal Affairs may seem like standard dirty cop vs idealistic cop stuff but there are many levels to Harry Bean’s Othello-esque screenplay.
As the film starts, we watch Gere cover for a young officer (an effective Michael Beach) who shoots an unarmed suspect. Later, we will see how Gere cashes in that and other “favors” to satisfy his own aberrant agenda. We then meet a recently promoted Garcia, who sees his position with IA aka “The Rat Squad” as an opportunity to climb the ranks of the LAPD and perhaps provide a more comfortable life for his wife, played with the right mix of naivete and passion by Nancy Travis. Garcia is partnered with a no-nonsense Laurie Metcalf, whose homosexuality is sadly decried in the macho law enforcement world. At one point, Garcia callously “outs” Metcalf to his wife but over the course of the film their developing partnership is what keeps him grounded.
Garcia enters Gere’s shady sphere when he is asked to investigate Gere’s partner (a wonderfully conflicted William Baldwin), who just happens to be an old friend of Garcia. After their initial sit down, Metcalf educates Garcia by saying, “You remember all those friends you HAD in the department? You don’t have them anymore.” Garcia quickly surmises that Gere is pulling many strings in the department, especially when his initial investigation his shutdown by his superiors. Garcia and Metcalf keep digging and discover Gere’s connection to criminals running legitimate businesses in which Gere becomes the point person for officers seeking moonlighting gigs in private security. Additionally, Gere facilitates murders for hire.
In a truly mesmerizing scene, Gere has dinner with a potential client played by John Kapelos. But instead of “selling” his services, he spends the majority of the scene seducing Kapelos’ wife (played by Katherine Borowitz) in plain sight. Gere’s Dennis Peck finds ways to instinctively recognize people’s vices and insecurities and utilize them for either strict profit or personal pleasure. Another character of note in the film is Gere’s current wife (his third) played sympathetically by Annabella Sciorra. She is completely unaware of her husband’s criminal enterprise, but her knowledge of a seemingly innocuous phone message becomes paramount.
But the heart of the movie is the cat and mouse game played by Gere and Garcia. Like many police thrillers, Garcia’s investigation becomes an obsession. We see Gere needle Garcia who becomes quickly defensive at any thought of his cherished wife being unfaithful. Here we have the Shakespearean influence, with Gere playing straight-up Iago to the hair trigger jealousy of Garcia’s Othello, at one point even throwing a modern-day version of Desdemona’s handkerchief in his face. Watching Gere play puppet master as Garcia slowly unravels is one of the many entertaining facets of Internal Affairs.
The fact that the last third of Internal Affairs has a more “American” conventional feel is a bit disappointing. I do wonder if Figgis and Bean (who also wrote Deep Cover and The Believer) had plans for a grander and darker conclusion but what was left on screen is still very satisfying. In my book, Internal Affairs does have a lasting legacy.
It’s a reminder of the magnetic intensity that Andy Garcia can bring to any role, which was subsequently capitalized on in his Oscar-nominated role in The Godfather Part III. It’s an early showcase for Laurie Metcalf who believably navigates this sadistically male word both as a woman and as a lesbian, earning the respect of both her partner and the audience. But it’s mostly an overlooked exhibition of Richard Gere’s thespian malleability and potentially deadly charm. Gere provides no pretense or cliched histrionics in the film. Gere takes the charm that turned him into a star and wields it as a cunning weapon. Even though his Dennis Peck meets a grizzly end, I’m guessing there are still plenty of women (and more than a few men) who think they could fix him. How terrifying indeed.