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Film Review: Lethal Weapon
In 1987, Richard Donner released the buddy cop action film Lethal Weapon, which was written by screenwriter Shane Black. Starring Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Mitchell Ryan, Tom Atkins, Darlene Love, Jackie Swanson, Traci Wolfe, Damon Hines, Ebonie Smith, Steve Kahan, Mary Ellen Trainor, Edd O’Ross and Lycia Naff, the film grossed $120.2 million at the box office. The first in a series of four, it was the top film at the box office for three weeks and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Sound Mixing, but lost to The Last Emperor. It also inspired other films such as Tango & Cash, Bad Boys, and Rush Hour.
Ex-US Army Special Forces soldier turned LAPD Narcotics Sergeant Martin Riggs worries his superiors after nearly killing a disarmed suspect during a drug bust. He’s subsequently transferred to Homicide and partnered with Sergeant Roger Murtaugh, who plays strictly by the book. The two work to track down a drug dealing murderer who has ties within the police force.
The film that essentially defined the buddy cop genre, what makes Lethal Weapon such a memorable film is its characters. To be more precise, the film gives its protagonists such diverse characterization and forces them to work side by side. And though many other films had brought similar scenarios to audiences prior, it would seem that what made this film succeed was in how radically different it had made the two partners.
For one, there’s Riggs. In his first scene, he’s making a drug bust, but is cracking jokes and acting very off kilter while doing so before reveling himself. He then kills a few of the drug pushers and then tries to get one of them to kill them both. It shows that he may be a competent narcotics officer, but at the same time, he’s not all there and really just wants to die. This is further shown later in his trailer when he’s desperately trying to kill himself, but can’t pull the trigger. There’s another point where he gets the drop on someone by showing himself to be in a worse situation when he’s talking to someone trying to commit suicide. Instead of just talking the man down, he walks right up to him, cuffs the two of them together and forces them to jump onto the inflatable catch that was set up. It further demonstrates how unhinged he was. However, soon after, Murtaugh’s challenge to end it and him being unable to do so starts his character development.
And really, Murtaugh’s a great foil for Riggs. Where Riggs looks for ways to escalate situations and resort to dirty tactics, Murtaugh spends his time trying to do things by the book to the letter. He’s much more concerned with being a good cop and doing what’s right. Further, Riggs is a suicidal maniac that doesn’t care what happens to him and Murtaugh is a family man who will track down any and all criminals to the bitter end if they do anything to his kids.
And though both of them get the same amount of screen time, it’s Riggs who gets the most character development. Through his interactions with Murtaugh’s family, Riggs comes to care for them just as much as his partner and they eventually becomes his surrogate family. It gives him something to live for.
All of this intersects with some really great villains. At the head is the general running a heroin shipping operation from the club which he also runs. But directly underneath him is Mr. Joshua, who is a much more memorable character than his boss. Like Riggs, he’s also pretty insane, with his character being established in allowing the general to burn his arm to test his loyalty. Joshua just clenches his teeth and takes it. However, his insane loyalty to his boss is also what does him in, as it makes him blinded by rage. Following his intense fistfight with Riggs, he tries to shoot Murtaugh and Riggs in the back, while surrounded by cops. Really notable though is it seems that Riggs and Joshua aren’t so different. The two both spent time in Vietnam and gained specific skillsets, namely they’re good at killing people. However, Riggs may be insane with nothing to live for, but he decided to take his abilities and use them good as a cop while Joshua decided to use them by killing people for money.
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