Published Sep 09, 2013Philadelphia homicide detective Eugene McCanick is having the most awful of birthdays. He's just learned that Simon Weeks (Corey Monteith), the young male prostitute he put away for the murder of a congressman, is back and prowling the streets. In a single-minded pursuit of finding Simon that leads him into a dark slum, McCanick kills a small-time crook and accidentally wounds his partner, Floyd (Mike Vogel).
Delivering a performance of staggering intensity, David Morse steps out of the supporting roles he's been habitually relegated to and absolutely shines. This is a layered, keenly observed character study of a tightly wound man who lives alone with a punching bag hanging in the middle of his kitchen and lugs around a World's Greatest Dad mug that has clearly been shattered at some point and glued back together again. Drinking from it appears to be a hopeful gesture, considering he's planning a reconciliation dinner in the evening with his estranged son, who has recently followed in his father's footsteps and become a cop.
While McCanick's desperate search for Simon continues throughout the day, in spite of urgent pleas to cease and desist from his captain and the threat of violence that constantly exists in knocking on the wrong doors, the film periodically circles back to the past. Flashbacks carefully begin to unravel the mystery of why it's so important for McCanick to track this kid down, revealing key secrets about the events leading up to Simon's arrest seven years ago.
Since, under the circumstances, much attention will surely be focused on Monteith, it's worth mentioning that he finds the right note of enigmatic charisma in his pivotal supporting role, but this is clearly Morse's film. He has grand moments, as when he breaks into Simon's apartment and proceeds to tear it apart in a violent outburst that sees anger develop into tears. But even in the quieter instances, he conceals that same pit of churning emotion under a taut mask of macho posturing and deceit.
Shot largely in back alleys and tenement buildings, director Josh C. Waller paints a world of hustlers and drug dealers that feels appropriately gritty and seedy. Daniel Noah's script is smart and nuanced, eschewing standard plot points in favour of exceedingly tense confrontations that reflect the title character's inner turmoil.
McCanick may be a twisted knot of resentment hell-bent on kicking in doors and busting heads in order to find the answers he seeks, but there are battles within himself he isn't quite ready to fight and some hard truths he isn't prepared to face.