The Glass Shield

Video Reviews

The Glass Shield

D: Charles Burnett (1994 ); with Ice Cube, Michael Boatman, M. Emmett Walsh, Michael Ironside, Bernie Casey, Elliott Gould. The Glass Shield's opening credits are set against panels from a cop action comic, paralleling the way that eager rookie J.J. Johnson (Boatman) views his new job on the force. The wide-eyed young officer is the only black cop in a Los Angeles sheriff's substation. He soon comes up against ingrained racism, corruption, and violence on the force as he tries to fit in. A young black man (Ice Cube) is pulled in as a murder suspect after a wealthy man's (Gould) wife is shot in a botched armed robbery (will Elliott Gould play scumbags for the rest of his career?). Boatman and Deputy Fields (Lori Petty) soon realize that the facts in the case don't add up and dig a bit deeper. They soon find a maze of deceit that extends upward from the sheriff's office to L.A. city government. The film's central plot device draws from a case in Boston some 10 years ago in which a husband faked his wife's murder to collect insurance money, blaming it on imaginary armed robbers. Though slow and rather convoluted, this film has an absorbing story worthy of Joseph Wambaugh and an interesting cast to hold viewers' attention. Blaxploitation vet Bernie Casey excels as Ice Cube's defense attorney, Michael Ironside plays one of the bad cops (what else?), and Boatman is fine as the naive Johnson. Director Burnett infuses a sense of dread and foreboding into sunny Los Angeles locations and well-lit convenience stores that turns the rules of dimly lit thrillers upside down. He also does a fair job of capturing the macho-cowboy mentality of the all-white sheriffs, complete with styled hair and heavy mustaches. Interestingly, for all the manly posturing and camaraderie of the white cops, Burnett makes them the most pathetic characters in the film as they insulate themselves in their good-old-boy mentality. Considering the subject matter, this film could have easily become heavy-handed cop opera, but the character development and performances are strong enough to lift it above the level of invective. After all, it's a scenario that's all too believable in light of the recent Ramparts LAPD scandal.

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