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EVENHAND (director/producer: Joseph Pierson; screenwriter: Mike Jones; cinematographer: Tim Orr; editor: Alex Albanese; music: Mike Doughty/Joel Goodman; cast: Bill Sage (Officer Ted Morning), Bill Dawes (Officer Rob Francis), Lawrence Stringer (David Mather), Io Tillet Wright (Toby), Ruth Osuna (Jessica), Irene Pena (Carla), Hector Garcia (Victor), Kelley Saunders (Carol), Earley B. Teal (Old Man With Brick); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Fernando Cano; Cypress Films; 2002)
“A superior indy cop film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A superior indy cop film done in a low-key manner and getting to a more realistic way cops operate everyday than most films that go for the melodramatics and glamor. Joseph Pierson directs this strong character study and loosely drawn drama about two opposite type of cops as partners in a fictional poor Texas small-town called San Lovisa (it was filmed in San Antonio and dedicated to the cops in that town who lost their lives in 2001). It’s a fresh takeoff on those 1970s “good cop, bad cop” buddy films.

Officer Francis (Bill Dawes) is soft-spoken nice guy, people person, who has been shaken by his recent divorce and is trying to deal with it by getting transferred to the bad part of town, where he’s guaranteed to see lots of action. The straight-laced officer is assigned to a hot-shot maverick veteran officer who believes in being physical and hates “fat” cops, Officer Morning (Bill Sage). Morning’s cynical cop credo is: “If you want to help people, you arrest them.” The film follows the cops around in their patrol car as they deal with mostly ordinary stuff like domestic disputes, noise complaints, juvenile crimes and an incident where a crazy older man refuses to drop a brick. As a running gag, from time to time we see juveniles walking around with a sign indicating why the judge punished them, as one sign reads: “I am a thief.”

The opposites at first are unsure of each other, as each has a different approach to life and the job. Frances tries the social worker approach, while Morning enjoys being aggressive and in your face. Slowly the men begin to trust each other and see the strength in the other, and bond as they become more supportive and protective of one another. Frances learns to be more pragmatic and remains a survivor by fending off the tensions on the job. But Morning lapses into emotional involvement with the perps, which goes against his character and proves to be dangerous.

At a convenience store the shy Frances spies cute counter-girl Jessica (Ruth Osuna) and develops a crush on her, but she doesn’t recognize him when she sees him in the store out of uniform. But she recognizes him when the store is robbed by a violent assailant and he comes to the rescue. Morning gets his kicks harassing a junkie delinquent named Toby (Io Tillet Wright), never arresting him but regularly busting his chops though not realizing how the anger is simmering in the kid. The other featured case is about David Mathers, a violent psychopath, a wife beater and threat to his neighbor. Mathers is wanted because he doesn’t show for his wife’s abuse hearing, and the cops plan to shoot him on sight after he runs off with Officer Frances’s gun in a failed attempt to bring him in.

It all leads to a surprising but deserved violent conclusion that shakes off all the wry comedy from the set-up vignettes. This outburst of violence highlights the dangers of the job, as it makes the point you never know what might happen when you go to work each day if you’re a cop. Before it ends, the film sneaks in its evenhanded message about law enforcement “that cops can make things better by chasing away the shadows.”


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”