Code of Silence (1985)

There are certain movies where one should know what to expect.  For instance, if a movie stars Chuck Norris, it is probably a given that he was not asked to be in the movie to show off his acting skills.  Chuck punches things.  Chuck shoots things.  If he's not punching and shooting things, but is instead pontificating on the futility of existence, then one should understand that there is something wrong before even going into the theater.  To Norris's credit he is quite self-aware of where his skills lie and, unlike Keanu Reeves trying to do Shakespeare, it's not something audiences have been forced to endure. 

That doesn't mean that a Chuck Norris film necessarily has to be routine.  When combined with a director that knows how to use his strengths a little bit more can come out of the proceedings than would normally be expected.  In this case circumstances took what was originally supposed to be an entry in the Dirty Harry series and handed to a largely unknown director named Andrew Davis.  Davis, if one is unfamiliar, managed to direct not one but two of the best Steven Seagal movies, and in light of Seagal's later behavior and track record that is no mean feat.  He is also responsible for bringing The Fugitive to life on the big screen with Harrison Ford and, like Above the Law and The Fugitive, the city of Chicago is as much of a character as any of the actors in Code of Silence

Eddie Cusack (Norris) is a police sergeant with a reputation of being incorruptible - to the point that it makes him quite unpopular with many of his fellow officers.  This comes to a head when, during a drug raid gone wrong, an older officer named Cragie (Ralph Foody) shoots and kills an innocent boy and plants a gun on him.  Cusack suspects what happened, but Cragie's partner Nick (Joe Guzaldo) refuses to talk about what he saw.

While a hearing begins into Cragie's shooting, Cusack and the rest of the department have a bigger problem.  The reason the raid failed is because, while the exchange was happening, the dealers were attacked by an opportunistic mob member named Tony Luna (Mike Genovese) who decided it was a quick way of getting a fair bit of cash.  Unfortunately he stole from a  drug kingpin named Luis Comacho (Henry Silva).  This threatens to ignite a mob war between Comacho and a mafia family led by Felix Scalese (Nathan Davis).  When Luna skips town Comacho begins taking out his anger where he can, putting Luna's daughter Diana (Molly Hagan) in danger.  With only his wounded partner Dorato (Dennis Farina) still supporting him Cusack finds himself protecting Diana and going up against Comacho all on his own.

Code of Silence was a bit of a departure as Norris was known for his particular brand of martial arts films.  His particular style is that he doesn't try to make it look pretty like Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan, but largely no-nonsense brute force.  This works in the context of a by-the-book police officer, even if the one major fight where he shows off his melee skills has the usual choreography of most of the enemies hanging back and the rest attacking one at a time.  Davis, unfortunately like many American directors, isn't the best at filming this type of action, so it is probably best that most of the action scenes in this are more in line with a typical '80s cop film.  This includes a fight above a moving subway, a bloody final gunfight and an explosive car chase. 

Though Code of Silence is quite obviously '80s, right down to the soundtrack, the way Chicago is used as a background reminds me of how New York is used to great effect in The French Connection.  Both movies sometimes have a bit of a documentary feel, especially since it seems a lot of people in the Windy City couldn't help but check out what was going on when the movie was made.  Despite Davis doing a good job of hiding unwanted extras some of the crowds do pop up here and there.  It also seems that some of the people on the subway were not exactly informed about what was going on, as one guy let's out an obvious "Whoa!" when Norris pulls out his gun while trying to rescue Diana from Angel (Alex Stevens), one of Comacho's thugs. 

Michael Butler, Dennis Schryack and Mike Gray were the screenwriters on this, and though it had originally been written for Clint Eastwood and then later tweaked for Kris Kristofferson to play Cusack, they managed to do the smart thing when revamping it for Chuck Norris by not giving him long speeches or a lot of dialogue period.  Not that Dirty Harry ever has a whole lot, but Eastwood is a much better actor than Norris.  I'm sure that in any way it was worked out Cusack was seen as a fatherly figure to Diana, which I appreciate they didn't try to force a romantic subplot between a cop in his 40s and a 19-year-old girl. 

When it comes down to it everyone, including Norris, is solid in this.  Silva plays a great villain, it has some classic scenes and also a nice sense of humor as well.  In addition to acting Norris also does a number of his own stunts and generally walks around looking, as usual, like a part of a brick wall came to life and decided to go around slugging bad guys.  Code of Silence is also one of the better movies he was in period, and, though largely overlooked these days, was one of the films that made him a major action star of the time.  It is, and was, a popcorn flick, and thus it is a whole lot of violent fun.  

Code of Silence (1985)
Time: 101 minutes
Starring: Chuck Norris. Molly Hagan, Henry Silva, Joe Guzaldo, Dennis Farina
Director: Andrew Davis



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