Written by / 9/04/2013 / No comments / , , , , , , , , ,

THE NEW CENTURIONS

year: 1972 cast: Stacy Keach, George C. Scott, Erik Estrada, Scott Wilson, Clifton James rating: ***1/2
Whether it’s an exploitive early 70’s crime flick with an underlying mainstream influence, or a mainstream cop movie that sporadically delves into a gritty no-nonsense peripheral, THE NEW CENTURIONS is an entertaining piece of cinema…

After an opening credit montage of rookies – including Stacy Keach’s Roy Fehler, Scott Wilson’s Gus and Erik Estrada’s Sergio – training at the police academy, we skip right to the chase… almost. Your typical gruff sergeant (Dolph Sweet) is barking orders to a group of world-weary police officers… And with a fresh rookie partner in tow, they enter into the dark Noiry streets of downtown Los Angeles.
George C. Scott as Kilvinski in THE NEW CENTURIONS
At first, the centerpiece is George C. Scott’s veteran cop Kilvinski, who, with his own implied “laws” aka philosophies of life, provides Keach's clean slate Roy exposition through random busts including bickering prostitutes and, cutting back and forth from Clifton James’s Whitey paired with Scott Wilson's Gus, and Ed Lauter with former gang member Sergio (Estrada), domestic dispute calls that wind up humorously reminiscent of a television cop show.

But there’s a point where CENTURIONS, compared by Kilvinski as a new brand of Roman guard (equally hated and needed by that society like our own) kicks into second gear. Standout scenes include Wilson’s Gus gunning down an innocent man… The IN COLD BLOOD actor’s shocked expression, as well as Estrada’s Sergio explaining his backstory as a gang member reluctantly brought back to his hellish home town, make this more character-driven than action-packed.
Stacy Keach as Roy in THE NEW CENTURIONS
Although noted as a vehicle for the PATTON Oscar-winning Scott, remaining the wise mentor till a gloomy retirement, the story truly belongs to Stacy Keach, whose character-arc from an idealistic rookie to a seasoned cop to a reluctant vice squad officer to a hopeless drunk is underlined by the dwindling relationship with his wife and child: the domestic scenes border on melodrama but never take away from the gritty base: We always promptly return to the streets.

Based on a novel by former lawman Joseph Wambaugh, insightful glimpses outshine the sporadic cinematic clichés, and a few scenes would be considered politically-incorrect to modern audiences. But underrated director Richard Fleischer… whose eclectic hit & miss career labeled him more of a talented hired hand than creative auteur… using grainy film stock makes even the lighter moments look and feel completely intense and (despite a tacked-on conclusion) jarringly unpredictable.
Scott Wilson as Gus in THE NEW CENTURIONS
Roger E. Mosley being hassled in THE NEW CENTURIONS
Pepe Serna getting some help in THE NEW CENTURIONS
Ed Lauter listens to Erik Estrada in THE NEW CENTURIONS
George C. Scott in THE NEW CENTURIONS
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