Friday, May 2, 2008

A Shot in the Dark: In the Heat of the Night

The first real "buddy cop" movie shows The French Connection up in the category of personal drama. Rod Steiger stars brilliantly in an Oscar-winning role as Bill Gillespie, the police chief in the extremely racist town of Sparta, Mississippi (follows in the footsteps of the other Greek-named Southern city, Athens, Georgia). When a murder is committed, he first suspects Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier, in one of his best performances), a black homicide detective from Philadelphia that happened to pass through and be leaving at the train station near the time of the murder. After he realizes Tibbs is a cop (and Poitier delievers the famous "They call me..." line), he sets him on the case, as he is an expert with bodies and stuff. What develops is a close-but-still-so-far-away friendship that is one of cinema's best pairings ever. The best part is that they don't get too close (the closest they get is the subject of old flames or lack of them) and Steiger helps keep their distance marginal and have it be strictly business. The biggest mistake this movie made was making everyone else besides Steiger and Poitier one-dimensional, so it's basically a review of old racist movies that this film should not be lumped with, because it is more personal. The movie, though, falls into crap when some good ol' boys chase Poitier around town and try to beat him up but don't succeed because Steiger intervenes. And, although, the suspense is tight and fun, I figured out who murdered the victim moderately before the film wanted me to. Those are the two major flaws the movie had. But this movie is better than The French Connection, even though The French Connection is more unique. Why? Because you can't relate a lot with Hackman's gritty Popeye Doyle or anyone else, because it has the same one-dimensional type problem against it too. Even though Connection may have the chases and wit and French actors, I think that Night is better, because it is less about just the police and more about humanity, which it knows very well. A-

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