It may have been released in 1981, but this film sure has the look, feel, and sounds of the 1970s all over, and that's just fine by me. This is a gritty, cynical, yet still entertaining film about a nistly decent but burnt out veteran beat cop dealing with the continually worsening decay that has overtaken The Bronx.
The film is somewhat of a character study, and it has a very loose, episodic flow, instead of a rigidly structured plot. I think this helps the film. However, there are a few scenes that feel like they've been suddenly cut short, and the transitions between them feel really abrupt and choppy. Aside from that though, I don't have too many other issues. I mean the film is guilty of numerous genre cliches, but what film isn't?
Newman does a pretty good and believable job in the lead. As his love interest, a nurse who also happens to be a junkie, Rachel Ticotin is okay, but not really excellent or anything. Pam Grier (who sadly doesn't have as much screen time as I had hoped) has a small but memorable supporting role as a junkie prostitute/murderer. She does a really good job, and exhibits some fine method acting. Her memoir gives some intersting details about how she prepared for this movie, as well as some good information about it in general. Asner, Wahl, and Aiello are also all likewise decent.
What works best here though, is the location shooting, and the cinematography. It was shot on location throughout The Bronx, and things look quite realistic, run down and grimy. There's some really good long deep focus shots and some nice lighting and framing here as well. As much as I liked this movie, I can't say I'd want to visit that place during that time. I liked the music, but I could have used more of it.
Give this one a shot. The critics seem to miss the point with this one. Yeah, it's not really innovative, but it's pretty decently made, has great atmosphere, look, mood, and tone, the performances are good, and it's pretty watchable and entertaining. What more, really, could you ask for?