Man holding a gun.

Ramesh Nyberg

Hooray for Hollywood – Where You’re Terrific, if You’re Even Good

I’m not a big Hollywood guy. I like a good show every so often, but most of the stuff I see on TV and on the big screen leaves me unmoved, especially the police stuff.

How often have you gotten this from your friends or new people you meet: “Oh, you’re a cop! Wow, did you see that last ‘48 Hours’? Wasn’t that crazy? What’s your favorite cop show?”

Uh, well…none of them. Okay, I take that back. There have been a few. I really make people step back and scratch their heads when I tell them, “‘Reno 911’ was great – very realistic.” I mean, folks, let’s face it – some of the situations and personalities in those episodes were alarmingly real, were they not?

I’ve always tried to stay away from movies about homicide and cops and all that because, well, I lived it. And, more than that, 95% of them just get it so wrong that I end up not finishing the movie. There have been a few exceptions, so I’ll start with the very first cop crime/cop movie which really grabbed me and it was way before I had any idea I was going to go into law enforcement: In the Heat of the Night, starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger, released in 1967. First of all, what a brilliant plot! It’s set in 1960’s Mississippi in a poor little town where black people didn’t go out on the street at night. Here’s Poitier, late at night, at the town’s train station after visiting his sick mom, waiting to leave, and unaware that a prominent white businessman was murdered that night. He’s brought in at gunpoint and says nothing, until he’s interrogated by the sheriff (Steiger). Then, he reveals that he is a Philadelphia cop – a homicide detective, in fact. A black cop was unheard of in that region at that time and the Sheriff is in a quandary: He’s got an unsolved murder and no competent people to investigate it, except for this Philadelphia homicide cop who wants no part of it. What happens after that is pure scriptwriting genius and fabulous acting. If you’re too young to have never seen this movie and you don’t know who Poitier and Steiger are, well, you need to see this movie. It’s beyond great.

What made me write about this was a rare moment of recent solitude on my couch, when I got sole use of the remote and I started cycling through Netflix and Amazon Prime looking for stuff. Nothing caught my fancy until I saw a trailer picture of Kevin Costner (an actor I’ve always liked) and Woody Harrelson. They made a good-looking pair of 1930’s era cops, and I thought it might be worth a look at how the producers of The Highwaymen treated the story of the pursuit and eventual killing of Bonnie and Clyde. This is, hands down, one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time, maybe since In the Heat of the Night. If nothing else, it gives you an appreciation for what lawmen had to work with (damn near nothing) and just how difficult it was to track criminals who crossed state lines in those days. Harrelson and Costner were superb. Their speech, barbs and personal demons come into play throughout the film and I found it hard to quit watching. Yep, I made it until the very end and I was glad I did.

Who else “got it right”? Well, when it comes to TV dramas, there were a couple. “Hill Street Blues”was excellent. “Barney Miller” was a comedy, but it was good, too, and even pretty realistic, though it was never the aim of the show. Some scenes from “Law and Order”were done well, and the detectives going out and doing witness interviews I thought rang true. But, when they got to the suspect interviews, well, that’s where the show fell flat. I mean, you have murder subjects sitting there giving confessions while their attorneys are sitting next to them. On what planet does that happen? And, in New York, of all places, where the courts believe that everyone invokes their Miranda rights automatically. That same lack of realism showed up in another movie I saw recently (yes, someone walked away from the couch again and left the remote unprotected) called The Loft. A bunch of wealthy jerks buy a secret condo together so they can take their mistresses and one-nighters up there. One day, a woman is found dead in the bed there. Whodunit, indeed? These guys aren’t sure which one of them brought the woman to this place and it’s a pretty cool movie overall. Even the police interviews were pretty well-done, until one homicide cop says to one of the men, “Hey, do yourself a favor. Call your attorney and give us a confession.”

Do what now?

Sigh. If they just would have paid me a couple thousand dollars to consult on the script, I would have made that – and a lot of other movies – a lot better.

I think the answer is to make our own movies. Or, at least, write our own books. I’ve been working on mine for a couple of years, but this year I made a pact with myself to finish it. When it gets close to printing time, I’ll sound the horn loudly here and everywhere else. It won’t be fiction; it will be a memoir of sorts. I’m having fun writing it – it’s been an exploration of not just my career, but my childhood, too. I didn’t set out to do that, but the process kind of dug that up and it was surprising. You’ll see what I mean when you read it (see that subliminal stuff going on there? When you read it…when you read it…when…) AHEM! Okay, back to movies.

I’m now on the hunt for more really good, well-done, realistic crime dramas. The Highwaymen will be tough to beat, but go ahead and send me some you liked. I’m listening (and hiding the remote).

Ramesh Nyberg retired from law enforcement in November 2006 after 27 years in police work. He now owns his own private investigation agency, Nyberg Security and Investigations, and can be reached at Ramesh@NybergPi.com. He enjoys getting feedback from readers.