Blu-ray Review: Line of Duty (2019)

"Officer down." The words go straight to Frank Penny's central nervous system. Adrenaline engaged, with his heart going double time since the location of the fleeing suspect is in his direct vicinity, Penny's walk becomes a jog and then a run.

Information ricocheting from ear to ear, when the police officer (played by Aaron Eckhart) catches sight of the suspect's hoodie in front of him, his pursuit ramps up. Following him down crowded streets, through a church, out a window, and wherever the man will take him, in Penny's mind, "officer down" instantly trumps the command "stand down" that comes over the air multiple times as he reports his progress.

And when the extended chase sequence puts two more cops on the ground, Penny knows he's officially done listening. Trying his best to arrest the man when he corners him in an alley, he's forced to draw down on the man instead when the suspect aims his gun directly at the veteran officer and starts to fire. Staring up at Penny in defiance, the man looks Eckhart in the eyes as he dies and says, "ask him, ask him what it's like to lose everything."

A cruel comeuppance to an earlier exchange Penny had had with an inquisitive neighborhood boy who asked him if he'd ever shot anyone which resulted in a silence so long that you just know there's a story there, just ten minutes before this shooting, Penny gave the kid a sly "not today" before telling him it was still early yet.

What was early for Penny then, however, is late for everyone else, which he quickly deciphers when he reports to his former partner turned police Chief Volk (Giancarlo Esposito) and is informed that the man he shot was their only lead to the whereabouts of Volk's eleven-year-old kidnapped daughter Claudia. As if on cue, a video link comes through with temporary proof of life for Claudia, which is set to expire when she does in sixty-four minutes as water begins to fill the glass box in which she's being held.

Turning in his weapon as required, Penny blows off reporting to IA and taking his two day suspension when he finds the suspect's car. Looking to chase down clues like he chased down the perp in order to find Claudia, he gets more than he bargained for when — in need of a car — he acquires an unlikely new partner as twenty-two year old enterprising citizen reporter, Ava Brooks (Courtney Eaton) comes along for the ride.

Livestreaming the entire thing so that director Steven C. Miller's real-time thriller cycles through multiple points-of-view and lenses as people tune in on their devices, the inventively timely if utterly illogical gimmick ensures that Line of Duty continues running at the exact same pace that Eckhart did during the first act's bravura chase.

Striving to keep the energy up while cycling through a bunch of politically correct talking points about police, procedure, and community, although the actors are first rate, Eaton and Eckhart's jokey give-and-take banter feels like it belongs in an '80s buddy cop comedy as opposed to this high stakes drama.

Coming as it does right after Penny has killed a stranger, seen images of an eleven-year-old girl he knows on her way to death by drowning, and had a heated exchange with Brooks about his split second decision to kill the suspect (where he pointed an empty gun at her head on camera), the film's tonal 180 moves fast enough to give you whiplash.

Nonetheless, one of the most impressive direct to digital Lionsgate features that I've seen in recent memory, when Steven C. Miller's ridiculous film works, it's ridiculously entertaining. A truly effective real time thriller that, at times, is on par with Cellular, Line of Duty prevents you from dwelling on how little sense it makes by ratcheting up the tension with jaw-dropping action set-pieces involving shootouts, car crashes, helicopters, fire, and bombs.

Reminiscent of a video game for both better (as it consistently raises the stakes) and worse when it comes to an eventual villain — exceedingly well-played by an against-type Ben McKenzie — who seems to have more lives than Jason Voorhees, it comes as no surprise to discover that the film's screenwriter has a video game writing credit to his name.

Falling back on Gen X action movie cliches while trying to frame them through a contemporary viewfinder, the film features a painfully misguided, homophobic fight sequence with a gay, black body builder named Bunny that — played for laughs — feels like a scene left on the cutting room floor by a smart editor tasked with chopping a mid '90s film from Michael Bay.

Unable to figure out precisely which chord to play, Jeremy Drysdale's script strums along, trying to keep the beat during his otherwise engaging action scenes, and we hear Drysdale's struggle in Eckhart's lines of dialogue. Vacillating between friendly neighborhood cop and hotheaded cowboy, as one of our strongest character actors, Aaron Eckhart tries his best to sell all of the conflicting sides of his character, which never feels more strained than when he morphs into Dudley Do Right and is forced to tell another adult to stay still because a bomb could blow their "basketballs" off.

No stranger to being one of the saving graces of an otherwise average film (or in the same turn, stealing a stellar one), Eckhart fights to stay emotionally true throughout and doubly so when the script's words betray him. And while it's a nice change of pace to have his character partner up with a member of the opposite sex without any kind of sexual agenda, the film never knows quite what to do with Eaton's character and just as Eckhart turns into Mr. P.C., she comes off as a young woke millennial stereotype. Still, an easily likable presence who gives Duty a lift when needed, it's easy to imagine that with the right part, Eaton will do wonders.

Yet even more than the actors, the same can definitely be said for the filmmaker, as throughout, I kept wondering how Miller was able to deliver such a polished, expensive looking actioner on a modest budget. Having worn a number of hats behind-the-scenes from camera operation to editing and beyond in the past, Miller's deft skill helming other low budget Lionsgate pictures like First Kill and Marauders is clearly evident here. It'll be exciting to see what he can accomplish with a little more at his disposal, starting, of course, with better material.

Fighting to keep us entertainingly distracted whenever the naive soundbytes or rapid shifts in tone call too much attention to themselves, Line of Duty swings for the fences, and hits far more than it misses. Playing on our central nervous system, Miller, actor-producer Eckhart, and others ratchet up the tension so that much like Officer Penny, we're more than eager to jog, then run, as we begin the pursuit, and join him on the hunt.

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