Saturday, January 05, 2008

Lethal Weapon & Heroes in Hard Times

When watching Lethal Weapon, I kept thinking about King’s chapter on White Male Guilt. Mel Gibson’s character, Riggs, struggles with the murder of his wife. He is shown crying, staring at her picture, and putting this gun in his mouth considering suicide. The fact that he contemplates taking his own life actually makes him stronger as a cop because he isn’t afraid to die, however this puts others in danger too. He urges a drug dealer to kill him, jumps off a building with the potential jumper, walks straight into the line of fire of a sniper, etc. He tells his partner, Murtaugh, that it’s the job that keeps him alive. It’s what he is good at. While some of his actions not only put himself in danger, but others too, he appears to know what he is doing and each time is successful. Riggs fits the cliché character mentioned by King of the widowed cop who lives for his job.
The viewer also can’t help but notice the two distinct lives of the black and white cop duo. Riggs lives in a trailer with his dog and Murtaugh (the older, black cop) lives in a nice house with his wife and three children. Glover’s character does not face issues of race, but rather age. He struggles with turning fifty, making comments such as “I’m too old for this.” He goes to the shooting range to prove to himself that he is still capable of shooting the target.
The end is worth noting because after fighting Joshua (also an interesting choice of character, the albino) Riggs collapses in Murtaugh’s arms. This shows their true closeness, despite race and age. Then, they both pull out their gun when Joshua attempts to fire at them. In the beginning they struggled as a team because they had different ways of dealing with situations, but in the end they understand each other. This cop duo and white villain are the cliché characters in which King points out and expands on in his book.

Beverly Hills Cop & Framing Blackness

Beverly Hills Cop opens in Detroit, where the audience is introduced to Axel Foley. Detroit is portrayed as poor and run down, including both black and white people. Axel often works as an undercover cop and right from the beginning it is clear that he does what he wants to do whether it abides by the rules or not. Also, his authority, the police chief, is a black man. Axel’s past reflects that of the stereotypical black man, he is from the hood and wasn’t always associated with the best people. However, he trained to become a cop and was successful in doing so, without changing who he truly is. Issues with race arise when Axel goes to Beverly Hills in order to solve the murder of his friend. He stands out, not just because of his color, but also because of his car and clothing. When thrown through a window by two white security guards (at the request of a powerful white villian, Victor Maitland), Axel is arrested and the story is changed around. Axel’s reaction to being arrested clearly shows that he is taken aback by this kind of treatment; he even fails to inform them that he is a cop because he is so appalled at the way he is being treated.
While Murphy’s character is isolated in race in Beverly Hills Cop, after this incident, it doesn’t seem to really affect him, as Guerrero suggests. Guerrero is all about pointing out how blacks are isolated and the white’s are portrayed as elite. However, I find it interesting that Foley mocks one of the black cops in L.A. and then in another scene claims he is gay and has herpes. This comment brings up another stereotype all on its own. Despite the fact that Murphy gets in trouble with the Beverly Hills police, this does not stop him in what he came to do. He stays true to his character throughout the film, and doesn’t let police tails, doubt or anything else get in his way.

"Lethal Weapon" and "Heroes in Hard Times"

Mel Gibson's character in "Lethal Weapon," Martin Riggs, epitomizes the character King writes about in his chapter White Male Guilt. Riggs feels guilt over his wife's death and becomes an alcoholic, chain smoking, daredevil. He is extremely selfish thinking only of himself when he places himself in dangerous situations that could potentially hurt others. Riggs is isolated and alone and a person no one would aspire to be.

Danny Glover's character, Roger Murtaugh, is the complete opposite. He has a great, solid family. He is a stand-up cop who always makes the right, safe, choices. He is a man other cops aspire to be. While King writes in "Heroes and Hard Times" about how it is difficult for cops to maintain solid family lives, Glover's character manages to do so, however, his normal family life is meant to further emphasize Gibson's character's crazy problems. Riggs and Murtaugh are the exact buddy pair King writes about, and their types are seen in so many cop films.

Another thing I found interesting was the villain in "Lethal Weapon." King writes that many villains in cops films are creepy looking Aryan men. The villain, Mr. Joshua (played by Gary Busey), is the epitome of that cliche character King writes about.
From King's perspective, "Lethal Weapon" proves much of what he writes about as being true. From the typical buddy cops, to the typical villain, it all falls right into line with what King writes.

"Beverly Hills Cop" and "Framing Blackness"

"Beverly Hills Cop" was a funny film. I found myself getting caught up in the plot. When I started to think about the film in reference to Ed Guerrero's "Framing Blackness" I found there were many things I would have overlooked about the film. Had I not read Guerrero's book, I would not have realized Eddie Murphy's character, Axel, is one of the only African American characters in the film. He speaks differently than all the other characters using a great deal of profanity and slang. The only other character who uses the same type of language as Axel is his boss in Detroit, who is also African American. His boss, however, is in less than five minutes of the film. One of the main ways Axel's blackness is framed is by his language and his isolation as one of the only African Americans in the film. Guerrero writes, " an African American top billing in a film in which he or she is completely isolated from other blacks or any reference to the black world. Black culture is therefore embodied in the black star's persona and actions, surrounded and appropriated by a white context and narrative..."

Guerrero observes in Chapter Four, Recuperation, Representation, and Resistance: Black Cinema through the 1980s, that in the 80s, the film industry was primarily focused on making big budget pictures. Most of the films released followed a similar pattern. Guerrero writes, "Hollywood has been reluctant to cast black stars without a white 'buddy' as ideological chaperone to ensure its box office...because of his superstar status, the notable exception to this problem is Eddie Murphy." Eddie Murphy was cast in the role of Axel because Hollywood knew he could carry a film by himself, however, no other African Americans were in principal roles in "Beverly Hills Cop.” Guerrero also tells his reader that “Beverly Hills Cops” was originally written for Sylvester Stallone. Stallone as the character of Axel would have made the film completely different and would have made it more relevant to what King writes about in “Heroes in Hard Times.”

Lethal Weapon vs. Heroes in Hard Times

The first character we meet in Lethal Weapon is Danny Glover’s Detective Sergeant Roger Murtaugh, who appears to be a rather affluent, happily married with children in a large home, dealing with life in a positive manner and celebrating his birthday. Queue Mel Gibson’s character, Detective Sergeant Martin Riggs, a depressed alcoholic living in a trailer mourning the death of his wife. These characters had been talked about almost excessively in Neal King’s book, Heroes in Hard Times, so much in fact that before I even watched the movie, I had a pretty good feel for both of them. However, through out the entire movie, I had trouble deciding who was the hero and who was the sidekick in King’s book. One reason being the fact that both Glover and Gibson’s characters seemed to share the spotlight through out the movie. We get to know both of them in a very intimate fashion, see them working together and both stepping into the line of fire. However, Gibson’s character does act the hero part according to King’s description of how a hero acts in a cop movie; depressed often to the point of suicide, loved one dead or gone, no money and dealing with the stresses of the world in a rather extreme manner. Glover’s character could be considered the sidekick according to King because instead of killing people, he instead shoots them in the knee, and the ability to have a happy home life instead of something destructive. While I understand the reasons for King qualifying Gibson’s character as the hero and Glover’s as the sidekick, but I disagree based on the simple fact that it is established in the scene right before when Glover yells “Gun!” and then attempts to tackle Gibson that Glover is a higher ranking officer. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of King’s categorizing the differences between the hero and the side kick in Lethal Weapon.