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Review: McCanick (2014)

McCanick (2014)

Directed by: Josh C. Waller

Premise: A police detective (David Morse) discovers that a criminal he put behind bars has been released. As he pursues the ex-con, it’s revealed that their relationship is more complex.

What Works: Stories of ethically compromised police officers are nothing new but McCanick is a good example of adopting the format of a hardboiled crime story, executing it very well, and then adding surprising elements around it. This film is primarily a study of the title character; McCanick, played by David Morse, is an aged detective who has been living with a secret and the release of a criminal that he sent to prison years earlier threatens to expose that secret. The narrative is smartly assembled. Most of the film is set in the present but the narrative occasionally flashes backward to show the origins of the detective’s secret and his complex relationship with a young male prostitute, played by Cory Monteith. The filmmakers judiciously parse out the expository information so that the past and the present coalesce at the right moment. McCanick is extremely well shot. Cinematographer Martin Ahlgren uses a lot of unusual lighting choices that cast characters in silhouette and the action is framed with unique angles, with some creative uses of mirrors and other reflective surfaces. Filters and similar techniques are used effectively to distinguish between the past and the present. McCanick is especially interesting in the way it plays upon a typical detective story. The filmmakers present familiar scenarios but they are given an added dramatic charge here. One of the expectations that viewers have of law enforcement movies is gritty action sequences. McCanick does not have nearly the level of chases and gun play featured in a movie like Bad Boys but the movie is nevertheless tense and the action scenes are executed with a fierce intensity and use just the right amount of handheld camerawork. At the center of McCanick is the performance of David Morse in the title role. Morse has long been an underused actor, usually assigned to supporting roles in action movies. With McCanick, Morse is given center stage and he creates a complex character who is corrupt and yet engages the viewers’ sympathies. His secret isn’t terribly surprising but the extent to which he is willing to go to keep that secret makes him an equally fascinating and tragic character.
What Doesn’t: McCanick received a lot of press coverage because it features the last completed performance of actor Cory Monteith, known best for his role on the television show Glee, before the actor’s death in 2013. Because of that coverage, some viewers may come to McCanick expecting or wishing the film to be a showcase of Monteith’s talents. It isn’t. Moneith has a significant role in the film and he provides an adequate performance but this is really the story of the detective, and it’s David Morse’s show. That shouldn’t be held against the film and viewers should evaluate McCanick on its own merits, not on what the fans of a minor television actor wish it to be. McCanick is a police story and it tends to follow a lot of the familiar tropes of the genre, such as the police captain who tells the detective to stay out of it and the wise cracking younger partner to the grizzled senior officer. The movie includes these conventions but the filmmakers do them well, giving the characters depth and reality, and using those familiar elements as a framework for deeper issues. But McCanick goes a little awry in the way it deals with those issues. This film has some heavy thematic content and inherently dramatic themes don’t require heavy handed delivery. The material will usually do that on its own. At times, especially in the ending, the filmmakers of McCanick overplay the drama.  

DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurette, trailer.

Bottom Line: McCanick may be remembered for Cory Monteith’s last performance but there is much more to this movie than that. This is an absorbing and extremely well made story of crime and punishment that features a terrifically intense performance by David Morse. 

Episode: #501 (July 27, 2014)