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  • A Los Angeles cop and his partner stop a car at night for a minor traffic violation. The car contains two petty criminals. One of the criminals panics, and orders the two cops into the car, at gunpoint, and then commands one of the officers to drive the car out to the desert. Near Bakersfield, the car turns off onto a lonesome dirt road next to an onion field. Shortly thereafter, a violent confrontation occurs. Not everyone survives.

    With a plot that is direct and easy to follow, "The Onion Field" tells this story in a straightforward manner. There are almost no plot twists or turns. And the film has a breathtaking sense of authenticity. Indeed, the film's kidnapping scene takes place at the intersection of Carlos and Gower, the exact location where the real life kidnapping occurred.

    The film's pacing is rather slow. Scenes tend to be lengthy, with emphasis on character development. The first half gives us a snapshot of the everyday lives, both of the cops and of the two thieves. It also describes the kidnapping incident that brought them together, and the ordeal on the deserted road. Much of the second half takes place in a courtroom setting, as we see how the criminal trial plays out. This second half of the film renders a scathing indictment of the American judicial process.

    The film's cinematography is fine, if perhaps somewhat dark. The background music is low-key and appropriately ominous. Production design is adequate.

    Based on Joseph Wambaugh's book, the screen story itself is the strength of the film. But the acting also is quite good. James Woods, Franklyn Seales, and Ted Danson are all convincing in their roles. John Savage gives a great performance too, despite his tendency to talk as if he's got marbles in his mouth.

    Fact-based films have an inherent advantage over fictional films, in my opinion. And, "The Onion Field" is made with such authenticity, with such a sense of purpose and dedication, it easily makes my list of the best crime films of the 1970s.
  • The Onion Field was a story that needed to be told. This is a story that will really make you angry, angry at a legal system that lets vicious criminals off the hook and brutalizes their victims. I was outraged at the horrible crime committed against Officers Ian Campbell and Karl Heninger. They were both abducted and taken to an onion field and Campbell was shot and killed while Heninger managed to get away. As cruel as it may sound, I think Heninger would have been better off if they had killed him as well. Campbell's death was quick, Heninger suffered a living death. He was ostracized by his fellow police officers as a coward and they actually made him tell his story to young officers as an example of what not to do in a crisis situation. I was so angry watching this at how this poor man was treated. I thought policemen were supposed to stand by each other. Heninger was so traumatized by this that he became a kleptomaniac and was forced to resign from the department. What was even more obscene was that the trial of the two killers became the longest most drawn out affair in legal history, it literally dragged on for years with Heninger being forced to testify again and again. Gregory Powell (the triggerman) was represented by a lawyer named Irving Kanarek (who would later represent Charles Manson). Kanarek was legendary in Los Angeles courts for being a professional "obstructionist", a lawyer who dragged out proceedings by objections and legal "foot dragging". Kanarek spent a year and a half on pre trial motions before his own client fired him in disgust. This film is a searing indictment of a legal system that protects the deadly spider and ignores the innocent fly. James Woods was absolutely chilling as this psychopathic killer. He was a young actor just getting started at the time and what a way to debut! The late Gene Siskel said that he was almost like Frankenstein's monster. Yes The Onion Field is not a pleasant story, but it is one that needs to be told. There is one tragic footnote that I would like to add involving Karl Heninger. He died in 1994 of a liver disease. I wrote a letter to Joseph Wambaugh and he told me this. He said Heninger was an alcoholic and he never ever escaped the horror of what happened that night. May he rest in peace.
  • Two aspects separate this film from movie obscurity. Without doubt, James Woods manages the most frightening criminal psychotic since Richard Widmark's giggling nut-case in Kiss of Death (1947). In fact, the film fairly crackles with unbalanced energy once Woods appears. His idea of "family values" is patting you on the back one minute and sticking a gun in your face the next. At the same time, the onion field sequence is superbly staged, the suddenness of the gunshots truly unnerving. Plus, Franklyn Seales' unscripted screams are chillingly appropriate, adding greatly to the raw impact.

    This gripping first half, however, gives way to a more pedestrian-- though well-meaning-- second half that could use faster pacing and narrower focus. For example, what's the point of showing us Hettinger placing plants in his pick-up and then driving off. The scene consumes about 30 seconds of pointless screen time since we already know that gardening is returning him to mental health. At the same time, the screenplay pursues a number of diverse threads that tend to divide audience interest instead of concentrating it.

    The film is ex-cop Wambaugh's personal project, and it's clear he uses the case to illustrate certain aspects of the criminal justice system. Not surprisingly, the appeals process comes in for special scorn. Shrewd cop-killer Powell is able to manipulate both court proceedings and the appeals process in seemingly endless fashion for his own advantage. Wambaugh is also in sympathy with the unlucky Hettinger who's been scapegoated for his partner's death. That scene where the beat cop exposes the unreality of a departmental rule is a little gem and also, I suspect, Wambaugh speaking through the actor.

    Anyway, that first half amounts to a minor masterpiece of criminal derangement brought to life by Woods' unforgettable performance.
  • dixie-1821 February 2004
    I never saw James Woods in a film before the Onion Field. To this day I have never forgotten his performance. Whenever I see him, I think of The Onion Field. He often is cast as the bad guy, and he usually pulls it off very well. He was excellently bad in Once Upon a Time in America, The Getaway, Ghosts of Mississippi, Casino, and others. The Onion Field was, however, absolutely a masterpiece performance by Woods. Greg Powell was an evil person, and Woods nails the role. This film does not seem to be on TV often any more, but is worth looking for. It is truly chilling.
  • PWNYCNY11 October 2005
    Ted Danson usually is found jokin' and schmoozin' in sit-coms. But there's no jokin' or schmoozin' in this movie. Here, Mr. Danson plays a police officer who is brutally murdered by two no-account thugs while his partner, completely terrified, looks on and does nothing and then is methodically hunted and only by sheer luck escapes. Remember, the two thugs actually kidnap and terrorize not two hapless civilians, but two police officers armed with their weapons. The message of this movie to me is clear: if this can happen to two police officers, it can happen to anyone, so beware. This is a powerful movie, not only because of the story, which is intense and provocative, but also because of the acting, which offers chilling portrayals of two psychopathic criminals who offer no apologies for their wanton and heinous acts and of an emotionally shattered police officer who is experiencing a nervous breakdown secondary to post-traumatic stress exacerbated by his overwhelming feelings of guilt over having done nothing to save his partner's life. This movie also shows how the criminal justice system reduces this act of terrorism to the level of being just another case as the case drags on for years in the courts. Indeed, the tragedy and terror of the event soon becomes eclipsed by the sheer mountain of legal paperwork it generates in the courts. This is a great movie which is based on an excellent book, which in turn is based on an actual event.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The best thing about "The Onion Field" is the cast. James Woods gives a terrific performance, while Ted Danson (though he's not around much) is also a highlight. And there are a number of familiar faces along the way: Ronny Cox, John De Lancie, Charles Cyphers, William Sanderson, and even Christopher Lloyd as a prison convict(!).

    The actual story material is some compelling stuff. Two police officers taken at gunpoint, one of them shot to death, and the other makes a miraculous escape only to be racked with guilt - while the bad guys escape the gas chamber and mock the legal system for years. But the TV- movie production values and molasses plotting made this thing a slog to get through. The gripping scenes seem few and far between, while the rest of the movie plays like ... the thing really does play like a TV movie.

    "Boring" is not a word I like to use to describe a movie, so I won't. But tedious works.

  • Warning: Spoilers
    In Europe we tend to have preconceived ideas concerning American movies. We are familiar with their heroes, their bad guys and the plots in which all get exactly what they deserve. Good and evil are often presented in pure physical and moral shapes. The characters who represent them cannot hold the interest of the viewers for long, the emptiness that hereby results has to be filled with lots of circus acrobatics and fireworks. Don't get me wrong: this can well be art or at least good, nicely crafted entertainment. But sometimes you'd really like to get a feel of the real everyday USA through a movie

    The Onion Field offers this possibility. It is really moving and struck me as an utterly credible, sensitively dramatized story.


    The movie is based on a true incident: Two policemen are kidnapped by two small time criminals during a routine check, driven out of town and into an onion field. For some crooked and completely senseless reason the criminals decide to shoot the two officers. They execute one of them, the other manages to escape. Both criminals are detained soon afterwards.

    The story, however, starts earlier. The viewers get to know the four involved characters and their everyday lives before the mentioned incident. They are, I believe, "average Americans". The two cops, young, sensitive and rather fragile men, are new in the force. Their joining it was second choice for both of them after dreams of achieving higher professional goals had come to nothing. Yet they are cautiously optimistic, determined to make the best of their lives, and they honestly want to "serve the community". The expressed frankness about their personal circumstances and their humble will to put up with them make the two characters very endearing. They represent the kind of people I would like to call true heroes. On "the other side" there are the two petty criminals, aimlessly drifting about, whose general misery is depicted almost in documentary style. One of them is a dangerous and highly intelligent psychopath, the other the classic sidekick character who is scared of the dominating partner.

    After the incident the movie shows how the criminal psychopath succeeds in starting an endless series of court trials. He actually dominates the often grotesque proceedings, getting a great kick out of it all. The surviving officer is forced to tell the awful, humiliating story over and over again in the witness stand. He is gradually overcome by his feeling of guilt and self hate. He commits petty thefts and has to quit the force. He loses every faith in himself, although his wive, the third hero in this story, tirelessly tries to bolster him up and show him that she will always believe in him. In presenting this process of mental decline in quiet, undramatic sequences, the film shows true greatness: There are no big scenes, no one goes loudly berserk, there is just an encompassing feeling of sadness and "little people" who fight bravely against it.

    How do you act in the event of finding yourself opposite an armed aggressor? The Onion Field broaches this question with an openness which I trust is found rarely in our freshly started 21st century. After the incident, during a conference in the precinct, the chief of the station says that, if he were to decide, every policeman who surrenders his arm to a criminal would be fired from the force immediately. The officer who could escape had exactly done this. He is present at the conference, and it is clear to everyone who the chief was referring to. After these words are spoken, a seasoned, stereotypical older uniformed cop gets up, telling his anecdote about the issue. The clue of the straight told story: If a gun is pointed to your face there is only one course of action – do what the man says.

    Even in dealing with the ending, the film finds a good solution. Everybody knows that a true story of that kind does not just end. So the movie closes with a community gathering where bagpipes are played. The dead policeman was a fanatical bagpipe player and used to practice in the cell block of his station. His mother approaches a teenager practising playing and marching at the side of the gathering. She compliments him on his playing telling him that her son also got great pleasure out of it. With this final note, expressing the hope that the world goes on and that there will always be people in whose happiness you can rejoice, this movie ends, bestowing to each character involved the dignity and respect it has a right to.

    It is remarkable that this movie has no stars. It appears to be the result of a common effort of all people involved in it, almost like a community project. No one is highlighted, every character is firmly embedded in the course of everyday life. Apparently this reflects the story of the making of The Onion Field, as told in the documentary The Return to the Onion Field, a documentary I can also highly recommend.
  • From the Joseph Wambaugh book of the same name comes a frighteningly true story of two police officers and two robbers whose career paths in life fatally cross one night in 1963 in a bizarre execution murder in Bakersfield Ca and the justice systems handling of it all. The film can't match the book but does hold up well. The casting of the various characters is amazing as they resemble in great detail the actual people they are portraying. The film airs on Television from time to time but be sure if you see it it's on a channel that will not edit it in the slightest. To be on the safe side rent it. James Woods and Franklyn Seales stand out in their performances.
  • Joe Wambaugh penned this script and told the story of one of the most shocking cases in Los Angeles Police history. Wambaugh was the only man qualified to tell this story since he came out of the ranks of the Los Angeles Police Department.

    The story was not just a typical cop story where the cops always win. Rather, it was a story of the tragedy of a lost life, the broken life of another, and the tragic lives of two pathetic, small time killers who would spend the majority of their lives in and out of prison. It was this case that changed Los Angeles police policy from that time on.

    The cast was little known at that time. Who would have thought Ted Dansen would go on to TV fame? Who would have thought James Woods would become a big screen actor? The rest of the cast, including John Savage and the late Franklyn Seales would remain a part of the landscape and gain their own fame.

    As for Wambaugh, he is one of my favorite writers because of all of the great cop projects he would do: "The Blue Knights," "Police Story" and others.

    Some days I really wish for dramas like those especially in these days of mistrust of cops...hey, it's a tough job laying down your life every day of your life. A movie like this might open the eyes of many and change some attitudes.
  • Most people have commented here about the film being let down by a rather slow, poor and melodramatic second half. I agree but won't dwell on it since it's already discussed by better reviewers.

    So let's discuss the acting. James Woods is very good as Powell, the main villain so to speak. Danson is very good as one of the detectives. Unfortunately, Savage (who plays the other detective) is a mediocre actor, and Seales (the other criminal) is awful and seems to have walked out of a 1930s theater with his hamming (there's no other word for it).

    The direction is tight in the first half but pretty much loses it in the second. I give it points for honesty and not going for gimmicks etc, but it doesn't do the truthful storytelling very well. The director should have known his limitations and tried to go for a more entertaining angle. It'd have been nice to see more of the early Powell and his attempts at crime, and a longer set up of the post crime events and how the two come to be caught. This could have been a much better movie.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    First let me say that this case was a tragedy and I feel for the real police officer victims. Perhaps I was missing the point of the filmmaker, but I thought this was a frustratingly bad film and a big disappointment. I remember the buzz about this film and the Wambaugh book but somehow missed it until last night when it was on cable. Until I brought up the cable guide that identified it as "The Onion Field", I thought I was watching some mediocre 1970s (Hollywood/Burbank) cop show because it was so full of pointless dialogue, stereotypes, illogical reactions, and poor police procedure. I am incredulous at some of the praise that other people are heaping upon this... heap. I understand that it was a true story and that we are supposed to be frustrated at the legal system and the police investigation, but was the "real" dialogue/transcript from this case this inarticulate and pointless? Apparently, the jury came to the correct conclusion anyway, but in this film they made the James Woods character out to be some legal, debating wonder that frustrates the prosecution and mesmerizes the judges into inaction. After watching so much tighter dialogue actually containing cogent points in shows like Law and Order, I was not buying it here. Even in "obstructionist" defense cases, there should be some logical basis or the judge would just dismiss the motion. So we repeatedly see the defense's ramblings, but not the prosecution's counterpoint. Perhaps it is authentic to the time period, but I thought the depicted police procedure was poor (the interviews, weapon security, car approaches, searches, control of suspects). And, I'm sorry, but the drill and ceremonies at the funeral scene was almost laughable... from Savage's poor bent-wrist salute to the inept flag folder. I watched this car wreck of a movie with morbid fascination. The clincher was the dramatic epilogue with the wife and bag piper boy. To me, it all just looked and sounded like a bad Hollywood made for TV movie of the week.
  • Fact-based movie are always interesting to me. I'm surprised this happened way before the Kennedy assassination. WOW! The true story about "The Onion Field" murder in California mysteriously got my interest for some strange reason. I quickly read the book when I was in college, and I imagined myself in 1963 when the horrible crime took place. When I got the chance to see the movie after 15 years, I was stoked, I was filled with wonder and awe, in what Campbell's partner(Officer John Hettinger) was going through. He has a wife, he has a family, DON'T THROW IT AWAY!, I said to myself. Only the baby's cry saved him from total destruction. John Savage played the role very well in this movie, and James Woods and the late Franklyn Seales(Dexter Stuffins on the 80's cult "Silver Spoons") did their parts well as Powell and Smith. I would like to give thanks for former LAPD Joseph Wambaugh for the book and his courage for doing such a thing. I wished this movie would get a Oscar for it. It was outstanding! 5 STARS!
  • huggy_bear24 January 2003
    Great true life movie of two L.A. police officers whose lives were changed forever in on onion field on the outskirts of Bakersfield, CA. As always, I will not set here and go over the entire movie. I will say that James Woods did an excellent job portraying Powell, and of course, Ted Danson was his usual best as officer Ian Campbell. This story grips you right from the minute that the two officers are taken hostage. I can only imagine the terror that Campbell and Hettinger went through on the ride from L.A. to Bakersfield. The scene in the onion field and what transpired after the murder of officer Campbell, with Hettinger fleeing the maniac Powell through the fields at night, is breath taking. It is just so sad that in reality, all this really happened, and a good man lost his life at the hands of a crazed-ass lunatic.
  • Nedward29 September 1999
    Watching the Onion Field is like being in the trial it portrays. Overlong, boring and ultimately unsatisfying the film drags on until its uninteresting ending which resolves nothing and leaves you wishing you hadn't wasted the last two hours of your life. The opening of the film has some promise. The characters seem to have some potential but after the plotless first half hour you begin to care less and less. Then, after the first 45 minutes almost an entirely new cast of characters is introduced badly and for the rest of the film we really have no reason to care about them. The characters who were introduced early on suddenly disappear into the background and resurface occasionally in scenes that have little or no impact. The film is filled with unnecessary scenes which neither advance the plot or the characters and simply make the film drag moreso. The only character we are really introduced to and care about is Ted Danson and when he's gone the rest of the characters are strangers to us. Overall the film doesn't go anywhere and in the end you know little of what happened after the shooting and in the end you really don't care.
  • Greg Powell (James Woods) recruits recently released ex-con Jimmy Youngblood (Franklyn Seales). They're going to rob a liquor store for the money to get to San Francisco. Det. Karl Hettinger (John Savage) is the new partner for Det. Ian Campbell (Ted Danson). They pull Powell over with broken tail lights. Powell pulls a gun on Campbell and take them both hostage. Powell promises to release them in Bakersfield. They drive to an onion field. Powell shoots Campbell and Youngblood screams in disbelieve. Hettinger escapes. Youngblood takes off with the car. Powell end up stealing a car and gets caught. Powell gives up Youngblood right away. The following investigation and trial take a toll on Hettinger's mental state.

    This is based on a 1973 book about a 1963 incident. It definitely has the dated feel especially with the dialog. The first half is quite tense and compelling. James Woods give an interesting performance as the weirdly controlling crook. The second half isn't quite as compelling. It's very detailed and it suffers for it. It rambles on with complicated fragmented details. Wambaugh's script may be trying to follow the true story too closely and fails to follow the emotional story more truly.
  • mjneu5922 December 2010
    The true story of the so-called Onion Field murder case, in which a pair of ex-cons gratuitously killed a Los Angeles policeman at the Bakersfield location of the film's title, has been adapted by Joseph Wambaugh from his own bestselling novel into a skillful if unimaginative screen drama. It's reassuring to see (for once) an honest film about real cops (however grim the scenario), but except for the more colorful details of criminal low life (a bloody San Quentin suicide; some prison shower fellatio) it might have been just another routine TV movie-of-the-week. As it would in real life, the story begins to drag during the protracted, inconclusive courtroom trials, and did we really need so many scenes showing (in all-too vivid detail) the domestic trauma of surviving cop John Savage? Sitting through his portrayal of an alienated, kleptomaniac, child-beating potential suicide isn't nearly as much fun as watching yet another typically psychotic performance by James Woods, as the bisexual cop killer.
  • James Woods(Gregory Powell),"This Girl's Life'03", played a very hateful person, who was cold blooded and heartless, and claimed to be a family man. John Savage(Karl Hettinger),"The Drop",'93 played the role as a detective who seemed to lose his gun to Gregory and was subject to all kinds of problems at home and on the job. Franklyn Seales(Jimmy Smith),"Southern Comfort",'81 was a convict who just got out of the slammer and got involved with Gregory and also makes love to Gregory's pregnant wife and starts out on the wrong foot. Jimmy Smith tells the police: " I don't know what a conscience is nor the feeling of Wrong or Right". Franklyn Seales was a great supporting actor to James Woods, it is sad that Franklyn had to die at a very young age. If you love James Woods, don't miss this film!
  • "The Onion Field" is a film like no other. I usually am hesitant about films that state "This is based on a true story" because most biopics made in Hollywood are riddled with inaccuracies.

    But I have good reason to believe that "The Onion Field" IS accurate. For starters, the film is based on a novel by Joseph Wambaugh, a former policeman turned novelist. Also, Wambaugh personally controlled the production of this film. That came about after Wambaugh hated what Hollywood was doing to his novels (especially Robert Aldrich's godawful film "The Choirboys")and he said that no novels could be made into films unless he controlled the production. Hollywood doubted he could do it, especially when he chose Harold Becker, an unknown commercial director, to direct "The Onion Field" and cast mostly unknown actors in the lead roles (The best known of them was John Savage, who had recently appeared in "The Deer Hunter")

    But Wambaugh had the last laugh. Not only did he prove that he could make a good film of it, but he also made "The Onion Field" into one of the very best films of the 1970s. That is saying a lot, considering that the 1970s may have been the best decade of American filmmaking.

    The turn of events that make up "The Onion Field" begin with the kidnapping of officers Ian Campbell (Ted Danson)and Karl Hettinger (Savage) and the murder of Campbell in an onion field in Bakersfield by two crooks, Greg Powell (James Woods) and Jimmy "Youngblood" Smith (Franklyn Seales). This makes up the first 45 minutes of the film and what's to come is even more harrowing.

    The beauty of Wambaugh's production is that he is not onesided as most biopics tend to be. While we feel sympathy for Karl Hettinger, the cop who survives the ordeal only to be thrust into an even worse one, we also feel deeply for Jimmy Smith, a naive thief who is wrongly fingered by Powell as the real gunman. **No, I am not spoiling this for you. I am leaving a great deal unsaid and the case is well known from Wambaugh's best seller and news reports*** This is not only due to Wambaugh's great writing, but the great performances as well. Savage gives his best performance ever as the damaged cop and Seales gives an exceptional one as the thief. But James Woods is dynamic as Powell and his over the top theatrics fit perfectly here. We understand why Smith would be drawn to this character. Also, Ronny Cox as the prosecutor gives a good, strong portrayal of a man who is frustrated at our misguided legal system.

    The film is not only a procedural, but also an indictment of how twisted our criminal justice system is. Hollywood would have shown everything in simplistic terms, but Wambaugh and Becker tell the story in the appropriate shades of gray and on that level, "The Onion Field" is one of a kind.

    **** out of 4 stars
  • James Woods gives a striking performance here, working with a fascinating eccentric character, but otherwise there is little in the way of virtues. The first half of the film is far too slow moving, taking much too long to build up, and then the second half of it is as randomly assembled as a tossed salad, going off on tangents here and there, without much logic, and totally lacking in any sense of time. The scenes in the first half lack excitement, and the courtroom sequences in the second half lack intensity. In addition, it is always too dark, with characters constantly set up in the shadows, and although the first half is arguably competently filmed, the final hour is a mess. The overall execution is extremely uneven, which makes it hard to recommend this film, except to followers of James Woods, who should be impressed with his delivery here.
  • jonpd5 December 2002
    THE ONION FIELD is one of the better crime dramas ever made. If it weren't for wonderful performances from John Savage and James Woods, this would have been your typical TV-movie-of-the-week rubbish. Even though it looks completely dated by today, the film wonderfully tells the true-life story of a pair of motiveless criminals who decide to abduct two policemen and eventually kill one of them. The other (John Savage) escapes and the two thugs are captured. During the trial, Savage starts to fall apart due to guilt for not having done his duty. Seales seems to be overacting in his role, but at least he tries. Nonetheless, I give it a solid 8 out of 10.
  • namashi_123 October 2013
    Based on his 1973 true crime novel of the same title, 'The Onion Field' is an okay watch, that works primarily due to the Strong Performances it offers.

    'The Onion Field' Synopsis: Two criminals kill a cop & later suffer the consequences.

    'The Onion Field' is extremely slow-paced & even dull in parts. Of course, some scenes are chilling & the second-hour is interesting. But, the first-hour moves very slowly. A faster pace & A stronger Screenplay were certainly needed. Harold Becker's Direction, however, is excellent. He captures each scene with a sense of paranoia.

    'The Onion Field' is packed with Strong Performances. James Woods is simply astonishing as the bad-guy. Woods has delivered many remarkable performances all through his career, but his performance in here is amongst his finest. John Savage is masterfully restrained. Franklyn Seales excels. Ted Danson is fantastic.

    On the whole, 'The Onion Field' is flawed, but fine acting saves it.
  • grantss24 June 2015
    Interesting drama.

    The true story of how two men killed a policeman in California in the early-1960s, and what happened afterwards. Starts off as a crime drama and ends as legal/courtroom drama.

    Movie starts slowly as it sets the scene and provides some background to the characters. Maybe too slowly and with too much detail. Some things just feel overdone.

    Once the murder occurs, however, that's when things get interesting. The legal side, especially, is quite eye-opening and demonstrates how easily the US judicial system can be manipulated and exploited by criminals.

    Performances are mostly so-so. James Woods is probably the best of the lot, putting in a solid performance as one of the criminals. John Savage is pretty flat in his role and Franklyn Seales is hammy.
  • This is a film that should be shown in police academies and law schools. The former Marine and LAPD Detective Sergeant Wambaugh got tired of how police and their work were misunderstood and did something about it. By writing the painful truth, he gives us disturbing insight into the minds of criminals, the cops who pursue them and the far from perfect legal system where they all end up. His first nonfiction book received the treatment it deserved in the hands of Harold Becker, who directs Wambaugh's own adapted screenplay. This remains one of the most sobering glimpses into the reality of law enforcement and the best at showing a society where the accused's rights regularly turn into abuses of that system.

    Performances are note perfect all around, especially John Savage as the surviving abductee who could never symbolically leave the onion field his partner died in and James Woods as the small time crook who became a murderer because shocking ignorance about the Lindbergh law overwhelmed his better criminal judgement. Scary and very important.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Ffor a film made it 1979 it holds up incredibly well to this day. John Savage gives a harrowing performance as Karl Hettinger a man who is justifiable shattered when his partner Ian Campell (Ted Danson, in his first big screen role) gets executed by the gay psychotic Gregory Powell (surperbly played by James Woods) This film is very powerful. It will make you mad, it might even make you cry. As the heinous perps are handled by a criminal justice system that is highly flawed. Ex-cop Joeseph Wambaugh true-life story of the events is excellently brought to the screen by Director Harold Baker (this remains his best film). In closing, I'll just say my heart goes out to the families and friends of the victim.

    My Grade: A

    DVD Extras: Commentary with Harold Baker; "Ring of Truth" (a 29 minute featurette); and a theatrical trailer (this is a film begging for a true Special Edition, perhaps a Joeseph Wambaugh box-set containing this, "the Black Marble", "New Centurians" and a bonus extras disk can be arranged somehow, one can only hope)
  • Two seasoned cops encounter some dangerous thieves while pulling them over for a traffic violation. They are taken aback when charged by the thugs and asked to hand over their guns. Not knowing what to do, the cops comply and it takes a turn for the worse. One cop dies and the other cop (Hettinger) runs away to hide. A while after the incident, Hettinger is chided by his fellow officers for not following correct protocol. He is further emasculated when asked to discuss what happened in front of a group of rookies and a supervisor announces to them that what Hettinger did was wrong and not to follow his example. This drums up in him tremendous feelings of guilt and low self-being. Later, the two thieves are caught and brought to trial and Hettinger is called to testify in court about the night in question. Due to appeals, the court case is dragged out for years and Hettinger is called back to court again and again to relive that horrible event.

    Excellent performances were given by Savage and Woods. At times, the movie has some slow areas, but overall is a riveting drama that strikes a nerve.
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