Homicide: The Movie
Reviewed by Sparky Lightbulb on .
A movie for fans of the TV series
An assassination attempt on former Lt. Giardello [now a mayoral candidate] reunites the best of the Baltimore PD.
Rating: 3 of 5 stars ★★★★★
Do you remember the final season of Homicide: Life on the Street? It was so young. Perhaps this adjective comes to mind because of the set redesign. Fresh paint and new furniture replaced the shabby and worn—and in the Season 6 finale, blood stained and bullet ridden—squad room that we knew. Perhaps the departure of Det. Frank Pembleton [Andre Braugher], the one stable married man, and the introduction of the stunning and single Det. Rene Sheppard [Michael Michele], a pageant winner turned cop, contributed to this youthful atmosphere.
Or perhaps antics more appropriate to hormone-crazed teenagers than seasoned homicide detectives infused that last season with its immaturity. We did have Detectives John Munch [Richard Belzer] and Stuart Gharty [Peter Gerety] competing for the affections of Billie Lou [Ellie McElduff], the Waterfront barmaid. And then we watched Det. Laura Ballard [Callie Thorne] confess her crush on colleague Paul Falsone [Jon Seda], who, at first, had eyes only for the former pageant queen. When Det. Tim Bayliss [Kyle Secor] explored his bisexuality, bullying and ostracism, typical school ground behaviors, ensued. Lt. Giardello [Yaphet Kotto], empathetic to the youthful energy that filled the squad room, managed his detectives as would an affectionate teacher, and when situations required a more strict disciplinarian, Capt. Gaffney [Walt MacPherson] swaggered in, principal-style, to crush the fun.
If Season 7 [1998-99] resembled high school homeroom, then Homicide: The Movie  is graduation. We recognize the significance of the occasion—that this is it—and so enjoy the opportunity to see all of our favorites one last time. But like the freedom and possibilities that await matriculating seniors, we are itching to abandon this cohort of characters and discover what’s next on the television horizon.
Kudos to writers Tom Fontana, Eric Overmyer, and James Yoshimura for concocting a story where dozens of Homicide characters can make reasonably logical appearances. The movie opens with our beloved Lt. Gee—now a mayoral candidate—gunned down during a campaign appearance. As news of the shooting spreads, we get to see our favorites interrupted in lives we don’t know—Stanley Bollander [Ned Beatty] having his first beer with breakfast, a bearded Bayliss fly fishing in a lonely stream, Pembleton lecturing college students on morality—all to Beck’s haunting and weird “Beautiful Way.”
A Homicide initiate would understand that Gee had amassed such loyalty and good will during his tenure with the Baltimore PD that detectives current, retired, fired—together with medical examiners and prosecutors—would rush to investigate the crime and punish his would-be assassin. But to a viewer unfamiliar with this world, the support Gee gets is illogical. A black politician who campaigns to make hard drugs—heroin and the like—legal gets law enforcement officers and prosecutors—many of whom are white—racing to his aid? In what universe? Try explaining those conditions to folks watching this investigation as their first introduction to the story and cast. Better to have named this “movie” Homicide: The Last, Long Episode, as it certainly doesn’t work as a stand-alone film.
But, really, this movie is for fans. And the writing and acting are often so good that a character’s full personality blooms after a few seconds of screen time. We see, for example, that Gharty, the cowardly patrolman inexplicably promoted to homicide detective, has now made the even more illogical leap to lieutenant, where he struggles to remain afloat on his own incompetence. So that we remember the racism that plagues Baltimore (or perhaps to see the new lieutenant's bad decision making), Gharty sends two black detectives, Sheppard and Lewis [Clark Johnson], to interview the white supremacists and the white Bolander and Munch to interview black suspects on the religious fringe. The hungry press allow Mike Giardello [Giancarlo Esposito] to go Italian hothead on unfortunate reporters wanting news of his father's condition, while former Capt. Megan Russert [Isabella Hofmann], the wise mother figure, drapes her arm around anyone needing comfort.
Sometimes, though, the conversation is a bit forced, like when medical examiners Drs. Cox [Michelle Forbes] and Griscom [Austin Pendleton] use their hospital visit to examine Gee’s wound and debate the caliber of weapon used. The Dr. Cox we know would have delivered a spot-on insight about life and death, or at least touched Gee’s hand, as their working relationship had demonstrated mutual respect and affection. But such are the little disappointments viewers can expect when the characters must pass the story like a baton as they sprint through the relay race to showcase seven years of cast.
Of course, the most important interaction—Bayliss’s rooftop confession to Pembleton—is the most disappointing. You can’t fault Braugher and Secor’s acting. They shout, gesture, cringe, and foam with real passion. But the words themselves are flat. The characters haven’t grown. Bayliss is still a little boy needing Pembleton to be the rigid disciplinarian. And with this scene—as we try to imagine how Bayliss and Pembleton will suffer once they climb down the stairs—we know it’s time to move on. The Homicide characters remain in a behavior loop that has grown tiresome and old.
And look at what was on the horizon! In two short years, David Simon would bring to life a Baltimore of more grit and id in The Wire, inarguably the best series in television history.
To Own the Movie
Homicide: The Movie is an easy [though expensive] purchase at Amazon US. One option is to buy a single disc. If you have collector issues, be careful that the seller is offering the movie release—if that's important to you—not a broken up Complete Series. Or you can purchase Homicide: Life on the Street—The Complete Series, which includes the movie together with all seven seasons.
This review exists at Amazon US.