Throwback films come around every once in a while with relative degrees of success. These are films that pay homage to a certain decade of filmmaking. They are not obvious movies that pull every historical bit of kitsch and pop culture reference they can find, but more of getting the style down of a certain era of filmmaking with a sense of mood and geography. “Argo” is probably the most recent accomplishment of this. A more recent example is Well Go USA’s 2013 film “McCANICK.” Through subtleties and brief references there is a good deal of deference paid to cop movies from the 70’s.
In present day Philadelphia, Eugene McCanick (David Morse) is a third generation cop nearing the twilight of his career. He is at a seemingly turning point in his life. We learn that his dad pushed him hard into the cop life even though it is not what Eugene wanted and to perpetuate the lifestyle he begrudgingly nudged his own son into that life as well. He has a younger partner who is quickly moving up the ranks, Floyd (Mike Vogel). Early on we get a sense of McCanick’s newer, softer side coming out as he tried to give supporting advice to him, something like a father would give. It’s established fairly early that this was something he probably never did much in the past. In fact, it’s hinted that he may have been one of the rougher cops on the force. He also can openly admit that he believes he was not a good father.
During several flashback sequences we learn that several years earlier McCanick was investigating the death of a political official which led him to the more tough parts of the city looking for a certain suspect. Here he comes across Simon Weeks (Cory Monteith), a teenager who dabbles in drugs and male prostitution from time to time. McCanick, looking to get any clues he can from this possible witness, feeds Simon and treats his with a certain degree of respect and protection, almost like a long lost relative. These flashbacks occur at regular intervals showing the early part of their relationship while the present timeline deals with McCanick learning that Simon was just released from prison and his search for him which he intends to end with violence.
“McCanick” does have a semi fresh take on the cop drama genre. Through some slick production values coupled with some professional cinematography there is a gritty, old school feel created. A definite yet subtle 70’s vibe. There is even a reference to Popeye Doyle from “The French Connection” thrown in there. Set pieces include gritty Philadelphia neighborhoods and railroad yards. He drives a vintage muscle car around town. Even the title “McCanick” harkens back to an era where stories revolved around to then modernized versions of Mike Hammer–like characters. Further more the Blu-ray menu screen uses grindhouse effects like print damage to create a feel. I’d be curious on how the movie would have felt if those effects were used throughout the film.
This film leans more toward being a character study than anything else. McCanick is a dark lead character who obsesses, lies and shakes down suspects for information. Director Josh C. Waller’s style accentuates this by adding nice character touches along the way. We see early on that McCanick brings to work a worn out old coffee mug that says World’s Greatest Dad on it. It symbolizes his seemingly once happy past with his son when he was younger. Waller let’s scenes linger without quick cutting or cutting it short. This can be a double edged sword sometimes. On one had you want a scene to play out naturally but on the other hand multiple slower type scenes can add up to a lot of fidgety viewers. That line is straddled nicely in “McCanick.” Morse and Monteith each are fantastic. Monteith in particular is strong in his last onscreen performance.
Well Go USA’s 2.39:1 transfer leans more toward the yellow side making for a vintage, warm look. It is an intended style by the director. Because of this, colors tend not to pop and excel. Detail however is strong and black levels remain inky. On a side note, there are several instances where some style choices look like minor macro-blocking but again this is intentional. This is a terrific effort by Well Go USA.
The 5.1 DTS-HD audio track is equal to the video presentation. Dialogue is accurate as well as the musical cues. There is a lot of low mood music throughout which helps liven up the LFE. This is not a bombastic track nor does it need to be. Gunfire, punches and car doors are vivid and realistic.
The special features are light but they do add up to a rather unanticipated stretch of time. The first extra is a 10 minute “Making of” feature which has the run of the mill type back patting of everyone involved. The second feature is about 15+ minutes of “Deleted Scenes” which were deservedly cut. They would have made the movie drag on and become a chore to watch. Lastly is a trailer for the film itelf.
“McCanick” should appeal to fans of the cop/mystery genre as well as vintage cop dramas such as “The French Connection”, “Bullit” and “To Live and Die in L.A.” It nicely uses subtleties to tell its story and it’s a story that has been told many times before but there are some nice twists and turns to make it unique and worth watching. The performances from Morse and Monteith are wonderful. The video and audio are strong and accurate. Recommended.