Saturday, November 29, 2014
Directed by Richard Donner and written by Shane Black, Lethal Weapon is the story of two very different Los Angeles detectives who become partners as they battle a retired general who has become a drug smuggler and his psychotic enforcer. The film is a strange mixture of the buddy comedy films with high-octane action as it is led by two men who have nothing in common as Mel Gibson plays the crazed, suicidal Martin Riggs and Danny Glovers as the straight-laced veteran Roger Murtaugh. Also starring Gary Busey, Mitchell Ryan, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Tom Atkins, Mary Ellen Trainor, and Steve Kahan as Captain Murphy. Lethal Weapon is an explosive yet extremely entertaining film from Richard Donner.
What happens when a middle-aged family man who is straight as an arrow is teamed up with a lonely and crazed man with a death wish as they go around chasing bad guys? That is basically the premise of the film as it plays into this odd world where two guys who have nothing in common other than being part of the LAPD as they deal with a drug smuggler who was once a general in the Vietnam War who also has an enforcer that is extremely insane in terms of dealing with situations. Especially as the veteran Roger Murtaugh is asked to investigate the death of a young woman whose father is an old friend of Murtaugh as he and Martin Riggs deal with many revelations about the drug trade that is connected with this woman’s death. During this investigation, Riggs and Murtaugh would become this unlikely duo that takes name and kick some ass as they also find more to like about each other outside of their work.
Shane Black’s screenplay definitely has this strange mix of action, suspense, and humor all rolled into a story that is offbeat but also filled with a lot of excitement. At the heart of the script is this unlikely partnership between Riggs and Murtaugh as they’re different in many ways not just in age, personalities, skills, morals, backgrounds, and in lifestyles. Yet, this duo manage to become partners that get things done as well as be there for one another. In Murtaugh, he’s this middle-aged veteran who lives in the suburbs as he’s been in the force for many years as he has three children as one of whom in Rianne (Traci Wolfe) is becoming a young woman. In being this veteran, he copes with being middle-aged as he often states that he’s too old for this shit which is among the many aspects of the film’s humor.
In Riggs, there’s a man who is an absolute mess as he is known for being very crazy in his tactics where he has no qualms in killing criminals as he has an offbeat sense of humor inspired by the Three Stooges. Yet, he’s also someone that is suicidal due to the death of his wife as he would often put himself or anyone else near him in danger. Having these two men as partners definitely seems like a combustible partnership but once they deal with revelations of this young woman’s death as well as it plays into this world of drug smuggling run by General Peter McAllister (Mitchell Ryan) whose enforcer in Joshua (Gary Busey) is a man that doesn’t just get things done but he has tactics that are far more brutal. Even as it would involve Murtaugh’s family which would have Riggs and Murtaugh go into great lengths to stop these two men at any cost.
Richard Donner’s direction starts off with a bang as it opens with aerial shots of Los Angeles and moves into a close-up of a drugged-out young woman in her hotel room as she would then jump off the building. It sets up the tone of what kind of film it would be as Donner infuses a lot of style from high-octane aerial shots as well as some unique camera angles to play into the action. Much of the action is often intense as it also include some moments of dark humor as it relates to the mismatched partnership of Riggs and Murtaugh in the things they would encounter. While many of the action sequences are elaborate in its presentation with wide shots and stylistic camera angles to play into the vast look of the film. It is balanced by the intimate approach to humor and suspense for the film.
Donner’s use of close-ups and medium shots play into the humor as well as the developing friendship between Riggs and Murtaugh as the former gets to know the latter and his family. It adds to something that feels very intimate as well as special into something that Riggs is in need of as he is a man that lives in a trailer on a beach with his dog. Once the two are in great danger as they meet their adversaries, the sense of drama and suspense do intensify where Murtaugh would realize that he needs to play dirty if he is to make sure the world is a safer place. It adds to the dramatic stakes where Riggs needs Murtaugh to keep him in control and Murtaugh needs Riggs to push his buttons. Overall, Donner creates a very riveting yet exhilarating film about two mismatched detectives who work together and kill some bad guys.
Cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt does excellent work with the cinematography from the colorful and sunny look of the scenes set in the daytime in Los Angeles and the Californian deserts to more stylish usage of lights for its nighttime interior/exterior scenes. Editor Stuart Baird does brilliant work with the editing with its usage of stylish slow-motion cuts as well as jump-cuts to play into the action and suspense. Production designer J. Michael Riva and set decorator Marvin March do terrific work with the set pieces from the look of the homes of some of suspects as well as the different homes of Riggs and Murtaugh to play into their different lifestyles.
Costume designer Mary Malin does nice work with the clothes to play into the different looks of Riggs and Murtaugh with the former wearing street clothes and the latter wearing a shirt and tie. Sound editors Robert G. Henderson and Alan Robert Murray do amazing work with the sound to play into layers of gunfire as well as explosions and other moments to play into the film‘s humor and action scenes. The film’s music by Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton, and David Sanborn is superb for its mixture of Kamen‘s soaring orchestral music to play into the film‘s suspense while Clapton brings in some blues-based guitar to showcase the sense of melancholia surrounding Riggs and Sanborn bringing some snazzy jazz with his saxophone for some of the film‘s humorous moments.
The casting by Marion Dougherty is phenomenal for the ensemble that is created as it features some small performances from Jackie Swanson as the young woman who would jump off a building in the film’s opening sequence, Grand Bush and Jack Thibeau as a couple of fellow detectives, Blackie Dammett as a thug Riggs beats up early in the film, Lycia Naff as a hooker Riggs and Murtaugh interrogate, Al Leong as Joshua’s man of torture, and Sally Field in an un-credited cameo as a TV news reporter. Other notable small roles include Ebonie Smith and Damon Hines in their respective roles as Murtaugh’s younger children Carrie and Nick, Mary Ellen Trainor as the police psychiatrist Dr. Stephanie Woods, and Steve Kahan in a terrific performance as Riggs and Murtaugh’s superior Captain Murphy.
Traci Wolfe is wonderful as Murtaugh’s teenage daughter Rianne who has a crush on Riggs while taken hostage by McAllister. Darlene Love is excellent as Murtaugh’s wife Trish who is has this sense of warmth and comfort that intrigues Riggs while being the person that grounds her husband from doing dangerous things. Tom Atkins is superb as Michael Hunsaker as the old friend of Murtaugh who asks for his help following his daughter’s death as he would reveal some things about why his daughter jumped off a building to her death. Mitchell Ryan is fantastic as General Peter McAllister as a once-revered army leader who decides to go into the world of drug smuggling as he sees money in the operation and will do anything to be rich.
Gary Busey is brilliant as the devious enforcer Joshua who knows Riggs via reputation as he is very insane guy who can push people’s buttons and do things to get the job done. Finally, there’s the duo of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in incredible performances as Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh. Gibson brings that mix of craziness and vulnerability to his character as this man that is teetering on the edge as he tries to find something to live for. Glover is the perfect straight man as he has these little moments that make him very funny as well as very serious in the way he does his job. Gibson and Glover have a chemistry that is often fun to watch in the way Riggs makes Murtaugh tick or how Murtaugh tries to show Riggs how it’s done as they are the heart and soul of the film.
Lethal Weapon is an outstanding film from Richard Donner that features top-notch performances from Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. Featuring an inventively witty script from Shane Black as well as a noteworthy supporting performance from Gary Busey. The film is definitely a standard bearer for not just buddy cop films as well as action-comedies but it’s also one of the most enjoyable films that still holds up since its initial release. In the end, Lethal Weapon is a gloriously enthralling and exciting film from Richard Donner.
Richard Donner Films: (X-15) - (Salt and Pepper) - (Twinky) - (The Omen) - (Superman) - (Inside Moves) - (The Toy) - (The Goonies) - (Ladyhawke) - (Scrooged) - Lethal Weapon 2 - (Radio Flyer) - Lethal Weapon 3 - (Maverick) - (Assassins) - (Conspiracy Theory) - Lethal Weapon 4 - (Timeline) - (16 Blocks) - (Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut)
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