Mel Gibson’s New Pro-Police Brutality Movie Is Crazy Racist
Saturday - 27/06/2020 12:38
There’s arguably nothing the world needs less right now than Force of Nature, a movie starring Mel Gibson and Emile Hirsch as trigger-happy cops with violent pasts and take-no-prisoners attitudes who are tasked with rescuing a Black man, a rookie Latina officer, and a Nazi descendant (and his stolen artwork) from evil Puerto Rican villains during a Category 5 hurricane in San Juan. What would be tasteless retrograde nonsense at any other time resounds during this particular moment in U.S. history as almost cataclysmically tone-deaf and insulting, turning director Michael Polish’s thriller (on VOD June 30) into the year’s most misbegotten venture.
Written by Cory Miller with all the originality and grace of a fortune-cookie prophesy, Force of Nature stars Hirsch as Officer Corrigan, who’s ordered by his superiors to leave his security check-in post to scour San Juan for remaining residents, and—along with the aid of newbie Officer Pena (Stephanie Cayo)—to transport them to a safety shelter. Corrigan has no real desire to evacuate anyone, since as he tells Pena, trying to do the right thing invariably leads to formal complaints from ungrateful citizens that thwart one’s sought-after professional promotions. He’s a jaded white American cop who refuses to learn Spanish and distrusts the locals. If that doesn’t make him an immediate embodiment of law-enforcement intolerance, the fact that he’s landed in this outpost thanks to a scandalous prior incident—involving recklessly firing his weapon and getting an innocent woman killed, which cost him his NYPD detective job—certainly does, solidifying his standing as a Blue Lives Matter creep interested only in himself and those who look, sound and think like him.
That Corrigan, a protagonist who’s previously committed brutality against women, is played by Hirsch, notorious for strangling a Paramount studio executive until she lost consciousness at 2015’s Sundance Film Festival, adds an extra layer of grime to Force of Nature. And that’s before the sexist, racist, anti-Semitic Gibson appears! The disgraced actor co-stars as Ray, a former cop who, alongside his doctor daughter Troy (Kate Bosworth), lives in the apartment building that Corrigan and Pena wind up at after agreeing to take Griffin (William Catlett)—a Black guy involved in a grocery store altercation—back to his home to feed his mysteriously ravenous pet. No sooner has he made his on-screen entrance than Gibson’s perpetually coughing Ray proclaims, “The current PD’s full of pussies that care more about liabilities and politics.” Minutes later, he’s bragging about how, when some individual once called in a fake crime report, only to then snipe responding officers with a BB gun, he took care of the jerk—another ungrateful citizen, amirite?—by breaking his fingers.
Force of Nature is a fantasy about misogynistic Caucasian cops (Ray “doesn’t exactly respond to female authority,” Pena quickly learns) with a predilection for using supposedly justifiable extreme force. That alone makes it an objectionable genre exercise. Yet on the heels of 2017’s Hurricane Maria tragedy, the material’s exploitation of a fictional Puerto Rican hurricane for cheap and contrived white-savior thrills pushes it into the realm of ugliness. Considering that state of affairs, the narrative’s subsequent rancid turns aren’t surprising. For example, Griffin confesses that he moved to Puerto Rico after winning a financial settlement against the NYPD for unjust harassment, bought a voracious pet (kept behind locked doors) that he’s trained to attack cops, and now feels guilty for taking that “blood money” in the first place. The suggestion, it’s clear, is that Black Americans know that police brutality is fake, and that any compensation for it is thus unearned.
Force of Nature compounds that dreadful notion by having Griffin’s elderly German neighbor Bergkamp (Jorge Luis Ramos) admit that he also understands the terrible, weighty guilt of blood money, since he inherited priceless pilfered artwork from his Third Reich dad. Nazis and Black Americans are equated as kindred self-loathing thieves, although they’re still sympathetic figures because they either regret their conduct (Griffin) or didn’t actively take what wasn’t theirs (Bergkamp). Given that he’s the son of a rabid Holocaust denier (and raving anti-Semite), Gibson’s participation in a film featuring a likeably remorseful guy with Nazi lineage hardly comes as a shock. But why Polish or Bosworth would want to involve themselves in such dreck remains baffling.
As for the plot itself, Corrigan, Ray and Troy—who boasts a traditional boy’s name because Gibson’s chauvinistic dad naturally wanted a son—find themselves contending with a gang of high-end thieves led by John the Baptist (David Zayas), whose defining characteristics are that he knows a lot about classic paintings and has no qualms with murdering people in cold blood. Many tedious fistfights and shootouts ensue, each one more perfunctory than the last.
Every step along the way is contrived beyond belief, but in a halfhearted B-movie way, such that you can almost sense the filmmakers cutting corners because they aren’t invested enough in this material to put effort into making anything plausible. Nowhere is that more apparent than with regard to Griffin’s oh-so-convenient beast, whose climactic purpose is telegraphed the instant it’s introduced. Yet it goes for most of what’s on display here, including a random apartment expediently stocked with weaponry, and John the Baptist knowing things he can’t possibly know—namely, about Corrigan’s troubled past—because, as he explains, “I know everything. I’m John the Baptist.”
Unholy is the best way to describe sitting through 91 minutes of Mel Gibson and Emile Hirsch as rugged shoot-first, ask-questions-later cops gunning down Hispanic villains, and rescuing non-Puerto Rican men and women, set against a stormy background meant to recall a real-life disaster. Force of Nature is, in that regard, a throwback to a very familiar, very standard-issue sort of action affair in which police officers are excused their vicious trespasses because such hostility speaks to their venerable manliness, and light-skinned characters invariably come to the aid of helpless—and appreciative—darker-skinned folks. Even before the recent George Floyd protests and attendant calls for reform of intolerant institutions, that template was outdated and unpleasant. Today, though, it reeks of the very old-school unseemliness most Americans are ready to move past.