When a streetwise kid asks the grizzled neighbourhood cop if he’s ever killed anybody and the answer, preceded by a long stare into the distance, is “not today”, you know exactly what’s coming. And it’s not the only time that In The Line Of Duty makes its intentions crystal clear.
Take the storyline. Cop with a less-than-glorious past Frank Penny (Aaron Eckhart) finds himself accidentally in the middle of the aftermath of a bungled stakeout. As he chases after the target on foot, he’s being pursued himself by an internet journalist, and the two become reluctant allies in what turns out to be a race against time to rescue a kidnapped girl, the victim of a very personal grudge. Sound familiar? It should do. With the possible exception of his young and unexpected sidekick, the clichés and tropes are scattered so liberally around the film that they start to become a distraction. From the CSI/Scandi noir-lite predicament of the kidnap victim – buried in a container filling up with water – to the maverick cop’s murky past and the pros and cons of the internet, they’re all there. So is the strict timeframe for saving the victim, director Steven C Miller’s attempt to add some real-time tension to proceedings. The results are mixed, resulting in a film that bears more than a passing resemblance to one of the its villains brandishing a shotgun. Its aim is all over the place.
And it’s also way off target with its look at live streaming news, on both the internet and, to a lesser extent, TV. The opportunities to give us something to think about and to make an interesting point or two are squandered. It starts with the opinion that the internet is clearly a bad thing – every single witness to a car crash is filming it, but nobody is trying to help – and finishes in the opposite camp when hundreds of people who’ve been watching events unfold online turn up just as the right time for the climax. Even a confrontation between Eva (Courtney Eaton) and Frank about delivering truthful, unfiltered news fails to ignite and sounds hopelessly naïve, fake news or no fake news.
As a vehicle for Eckhart, who’s had a comparatively quiet few years since working alongside a spectacular moustache and a certain Mr Hanks in Sully (2016), it gives you the feeling that he’s filling in time until something better comes along. Not that he doesn’t give it his all physically – he’s repeatedly beaten up during the course of the film, with matching wounds on each cheekbone to show it – and he’s an executive producer, so he gets credit for his commitment. If only he’d picked a better story, nay film.
Those heavy handed tip-offs about the plot, coupled with feeble and patronising attempts at humour don’t help, which means that he has little more to do than run around and/or get beaten up – both happen with monotonous regularity – and we see precious little of Giancarlo Esposito as the police chief with a personal interest in the kidnapping. Both are stranded in an untidy, uninvolving effort with a title that sounds like it’s been pulled off a very dusty shelf. Sadly, it’s where the film belongs.
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Crime, Action, Thriller | Cert: 15 | Signature Entertainment| UK, 3 January 2020 | Dir. Steven C Miller | Aaron Eckhart, Courtney Eaton, Giancarlo Esposito, Jessica Lu, Ben McKenzie.