Lethal Weapon, 1987.
Directed by Richard Donner.
Starring Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Mitchell Ryan and Tom Atkins.
Detective Sergeants Murtaugh and Riggs are paired together to investigate the suspicious suicide of a prostitute.
It’s a Christmas film. I never knew. Los Angeles has the wrong climate for that time of the year. Not as bad as the Australian outback in The Proposition, but the visuals still lend themselves to the bizarre. Watching the guy paint a discount Santa on the glass window of a store, basked in a beaming sun, you’d call him crazy.
Perhaps they’re too busy watching the efforts of a suicidal man on the roof of the building opposite. Detective Sergeant Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) is trying to talk him down. The thing is, Riggs actually is crazy. He’s got a bullet for the back of his own skull.
He’s been paired together with Detective Sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover). Nobody wants to work with Riggs because they’ve picked up on his morbid tendencies. His wife of 17 years had only recently expired in a car accident. You’ve gotta sympathise with the guy, but who wants a partner that doesn’t care if he lives or dies? Especially one with a dependent family and closer to retirement than from it.
The two Detectives are introduced separately from one another: Murtaugh, in the bath, being surprised with a cake for his 50th birthday by his loving family; Riggs, waking up butt-naked in a trailer with a half-smoked cigarette in his lips and a beer in the fridge. If Glover was playing a 50-year-old back then (1987), how old is the guy now?
Murtaugh’s age is a running gag throughout the film. “I’m too old for this shit,” has more effect when it’s said on the guy’s 50th birthday. You don’t even mind when it becomes a kind of catchphrase.
The film takes its time establishing them as polar opposites. One thing they do have in common, however, is ‘Nam, as does the father of the dead girl they’re paired together to investigate. She was a prostitute high on cocaine who thought jumping off the penthouse suite’s balcony might take her a little higher. So it was suicide. Course it was. Any other theory would be pretty thin. Anorexic, even.
As the two follow leads and track down suspects, they get a little closer to both the case and each other. They start off bickering, about how Murtaugh doesn’t want to work with Riggs; how Riggs just storms in, guns a’blazin’, shootin’ to kill. But after Riggs saves Murtaugh’s life, things begin to warm up. This is the ultimate ‘buddy cop’ movie, after all.
Gibson plays Riggs with a sincere fragility amongst all his insane bravado. Loosing his wife has affected him deeply, and each erratic action of his can be explained by it.
You really feel for the guy. His attempt at suicide at first seems like a one-off, but then he screams out at Murtaugh that he tries it every night. The only thing that keeps him going is the job.
And then there’s the first time you see Riggs genuinely happy. Not a nervous happy, or a slightly insane happy that he’s exhibited before, but a real joy. It’s when he has dinner with the Murtaughs, on the night he saved their father’s life. The six of them – Martin, Roger, his wife and three kids – talk over each other in an endless stream of conversation. So used they are to each other’s company that they can dovetail sentences and switch naturally from eating to talking. There’s a lot of laughter, too. Roger’s eldest daughter possesses a very visible crush on Martin, and the two youngest tease her in an improvised rap. You try, Dad! So Roger attempts a rhyme like only a 50-year-old father can. And while the Murtaughs natter and converse about their day and what they’ve been up to and what they will be up to, Riggs just sits there and lets it all rest upon his smiling face like a warm, lemon-scented towel.
And you know, from that scene and those few close-up shots of Rigg’s beaming face looking from Murtaugh to Murtaugh, laughing and eating, that he probably won’t need that bullet he had saved for the back of his head anymore.
It is the ultimate ‘Buddy Cop’ movie, after all.
365 Days, 100 Films