A Man's World

The Enforcer

Although Dirty Harry, as a character, is referenced in countless ways down through the decades (because who doesn't love asking, "are you feeling lucky, punk?"), everything that we really know about his character comes from that first film, the eponymous Dirty Harry. Sure, I can think of one reference to the later films -- a character in the 199 film Go picks up a gun and says, "you need Magnum Force -- but that's a generic reference all but free of context from the original film. If you didn't watch the Dirty Harry films you still likely know where the "do you feel lucky?" speech comes from. Does anyone even remember the title Magnum Force?

Thhe Enforcer

This is, I think, a clear indication of the issues the series faced after the first film. That movie, for all its flaws, was iconic. It set out a character on the fringes of the law still trying to uphold some kind of (street) justice. It's a dark and politically insensitive movie but it did speak to a specific moment in time (the Zodiac killings) and tapped into the audience's desire for vengeance. The following films, though, haven't felt like they were specific or motivated. If anything, they've managed to take that singular character of Dirty Harry and dilute him into an generic gruff cop. "He's not so bad," the films seem to say. "It's his reputation that makes him 'dirty'. Deep down he's really a closet liberal." We saw that in the overall softening of the character in Magnum Force and The Enforcer tries to continue that, carrying the "redemption" of Harry even further.

Unfortunately, while Magnum Force at least managed to tell a decent little action story in its retconned "Harry-verse", The Enforcer fails to nail the elements needed to be a decent film. It has a message it wants to say -- female cops are just as good as male ones -- and then, at every turn, it finds ways to undercut it's own heavy-handed message. All of this in a film where the plot could have otherwise been solved in a matter of minutes. This is an action film without enough action, filled with fluff and padding, all without any actual substance at all. It's a poor sequel from whatever angle you look at it.

The film opens interestingly enough, with two gas company operators getting lured out into the backwoods by a pretty girl, with the promise of beers (and maybe more), only for them to be killed in cold blood by, we assume, the girl's boyfriend. Was this a coordinated hit? Is the killer someone that hates utility workers? Does this spell the start of a serial rampage against Big Gas? No. Instead what we have is a group of militant white activists who want to... well, actually, we never really learn what their goal is, beyond a bit of carnage and making some money. They're really just terrorists dressed up as militants, but that point is hardly made in the film at all.

Regardless, Harry (a returning Clint Eastwood) ends up on the case (because of course he does). This time, however, he has a new partner. A special partner. A lady partner. Harry, being the dickhead he is, thinks a woman can't keep up on a homicide case. But despite his protests, newly minted Inspector Kate Moore (Tyne Daly) is forced to follow him around while he tracks down these militants. And they'd better hurry, because the militants have kidnapped the Mayor and will kill him if they aren't paid a boodle of money. Will Kate be a hindrance to the case or is she exactly what Harry needed to help him figure out just who, and what, this whole militant plan is all about?

In answer to that question, "is Kate a help or hindrance?", the answer is really, "a bit of both." On the one hand, Kate is depicted as having a detail-oriented and capable mind, able to hold facts and details quickly. Her observations are strong, and she has solid instincts when called upon. But then when the pressure is on and the action starts, Kate is made into the butt of all the jokes. She can't keep up on foot (distinctly running, in classic Hollywood, "like a girl"), and is easily dominated by any men around her. The film wants us to both view her as the best partner for Harry, equal to him in every way, and also as totally useless when Harry needs her most. It's confounding.

Now, I think some of the blame should be placed on the costumers for this film (and maybe they got their direction for the costumes from the director and producers). Kate is supposed to be a capable cop, smart and effective, and yet she shows up to her first day on the job in high heels and with a giant purse, and then she struggles to keep up in large part because of her heels and her purse. They dressed her like a woman, not a cop. Instead of a skirt and heels she should have been out there in a suit and, if not manly shoes then at a minimum, flats or very low-heel boots. It's obvious the actress, Daly, struggled with the stupid outfit she had to wear, and you have to think no intelligent cop would show up to work the streets dress like that. It's just dumb.

Frankly, the film treats her like a secretary more than a cop. Harry doesn't help this, talking down to her and demeaning her for two whole acts of the film. But then, for no real reason, he then has a change of heart and realizes she's capable and effective. Like, it's a night and day switch that feels entirely unearned. Harry accepts Kate as his new partner and, once the mayor is kidnapped, the two head off to find the bad guys and save the day. Of course, in true Dirty Harry fashion, this is the point where Kate gets shot and killed (because ever one of Harry's partners dies) and that ends Kate's whole (lack of an) arc. Like, what was even the point of all this for Kate or the film? "We put in a woman to show they could be cops. Then we demeaned her, made her look stupid, and then, right when we all finally were like, yes, she can be a cop, we kill her. Equality!"

I focused a lot on this part of the film because, legitimately, there wasn't much else to focus on. There's barely any story to this story, just Harry wandering around, occasionally chasing random people, while he laments how corrupt and racist the rest of the police force has become. That feels pretty rich coming from Harry (considering his behavior in the first film), but the film also doesn't do anything with it, really. He doesn't work from within the bring down some dirty cops (unlike in Magnum Force) nor does he stop a corrupt mayor. Instead he spouts some platitudes about doing the right thing, gets suspended, and then that suspension just magically disappears he second the bad guys show up. There's no real through line, no major plot to latch onto. Stuff just happens and then, occasionally, there's a spot of action.

I think if the militant group were actually fleshed out and given a real story that could have helped this film a lot. A corrupt government up against a group of people doing the wrong things for the right reasons is actually a strong storyline. These militants, though, aren't really militants at all. They dress up like them, but they have no politics to spout. All they really want is money, and they kill a bunch of people while they enact their big ransom plan. That means both sides are doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons, and only Harry (and Kate) stand in the middle as the arbiters of justice. We need more.

Oh, sure, there's a passing nod to the idea that the militants are doing more than just trying to steal money. They're somehow aligned with a priest who thinks these people are fighting for justice or something. Their politics still don't come up even then, though, and I think the film just assumed we'd see militants and guess they were fighting general corruption and injustice. It uses unearned shorthand to create stock bad guys and the film suffers because there's nothing really there, no substance to these villains. The militants are a far cry from the renegade cops of Magnum Force. At least then we knew what they were fighting against. Here we get nothing but empty waves at platitudes.

Legitimately, The Enforcer feels like a film that got drastically mangled in the editing room. You have to think there was more story for the militants that would really explain who they were, but those scenes were cut because they dragged the action down (not that this is a well-paced film regardless). It's either that or this script was just so poorly thought out that it needed another draft before it was finalized (a draft it didn't get). A better story still wouldn't have fixed Kate's depiction but it might have made the overall film slightly more interesting to watch.

I liked Kate as a character despite the films best efforts to ruin her. I appreciate the idea of expanding the Harry-verse and bringing in more diversity. Forcing the curmudgeon cop to deal with a female partner may be an easy lay-up for character group, but it's one this film entirely bungles. Nothing about this film works, not the characters or the story or anything. It's just there, another Dirty Harry film for the series because the first two made solid money. And despite this films issues, it made solid money as well. So I guess it's too late to expect growth from this series for the next two films to come...