Code of Silence (1985)

28 May


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Chuck Norris has pretty much become a human punchline, hasn’t he? Anytime the bearded martial-arts “god” is mentioned, no one can help but crack one of those infamous Chuck Norris jokes (my favorite being, “There’s only another fist under Chuck Norris’ beard”), and yet he’s always labeled as “awesome.” And when I think about it…yeah. He is rather awesome, isn’t he? While he seems like a nice guy (and probably is a nice guy), he can also kick some serious ass with his fighting moves (including a roundhouse kick…to the face?). How is he as an actor though? That’s a little tougher to describe. The reason he was a movie star was because of his image and multiple fights without a stuntman. His acting is not very impressive, as he has a very limited range.

But given a good director, Norris can give a solid performance. And he found one in Andrew Davis, who cast him in the lead role in 1985’s “Code of Silence,” which itself was a breath of fresh air at the time of its release. At a time when Norris was constantly doing schlocky karate flicks, he’s cast here in an intense thriller as he plays a good cop “having a very bad day” (as the tagline states). Norris is surprisingly solid here, and the movie itself is quite thrilling.

The film takes place in Chicago, as straight-arrow cop Eddie Cusack (Norris, even though you’ll never call him “Cusack” in this movie) who is caught up in a Mob war after a sting operation goes wrong, resulting in Italian and Latino mobsters out for each other’s blood. Norris is worried about the safety of a mobster’s innocent daughter, a young artist named Diana (Molly Hagan), and decides to protect her. But she gets kidnapped and Norris decides to save her.

While all that’s going on, there’s also a subplot involving a “code of silence,” which is a police officer’s cover whenever that officer makes a mistake or is corrupt. In this case, there’s a hearing for an alcoholic old officer (Ralph Foody) who has accidentally murdered a young man in action and then planted his weapon on the victim, so that he can say it was done in self-defense. A rookie cop (Joseph Guzaldo) witnessed the incident and attempts to cover it up. Norris decides to back the kid up at the hearing.

It’s interesting how much goes on in “Code of Silence” and how complicated most of it is, and yet how less than obligatory and simple it all seems. It’s as if the usual clichés are downplayed, if still existent at all. Interesting characters, capably performed by good actors, help with that, as well as intense direction from Davis.

The action in “Code of Silence” is very well-done. You can see it fine and are surprisingly invested in what’s occurring on-screen. There’s a solid 15-minute opening scene that is all about the preparation and resolution of a drug-bust (and it does set up the story). There’s a fistfight on top of an elevated train going through Chicago, after which both Norris and the crook dive into the Chicago River. There’s also a nicely-done barfight late in the movie, in which Norris takes down several roughnecks at a time (and even delivers a roundhouse kick to one of them—awesome). The stuntwork in this movie is quite incredible.

There are amusing moments as well—my favorite being a duo of robbers who plan to overtake a bar, only to discover that just about everyone in that bar is packing. And there’s also a crime-fighting robot created by the police to mow down criminals with an advanced armory. This is known as the Prowler, which looks like one of those mobile NASA food-delivery robots if it was packing. It comes to the unexpected assistance of Norris in the film’s climax.

Not everything about “Code of Silence” works, though. You can follow the story fine, but some parts just sort of pass by really quick. And while most of the action scenes are riveting, the others seem rather inexplicable.

But what it really comes down to is the spirit of things with “Code of Silence,” and holding it all together is Chuck Norris, who is solid and surprisingly convincing as a cop. He’s able to show off some fighting moves some of the time, as Davis has him in check, but all in all he has a unique, rock-solid presence. He’s terrific; the whole film is terrific, and it’s arguably the best of the “Chuck Norris movies.”

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