My initial instinct was to review Q & A as another piece of the sweaty 80s Action puzzle. Early on, however, I was overcome by the realization that Sidney Lumet’s (Network
anyone?) hard-boiled cop-drama was no rightwing, beefcake, bullet-laden
fantasy jerkoff. Sure, loads of people are killed, shit blows up
real-good and Nick Nolte spends most of his time in the company of
transvestite hookers. But no, the political message here is that the haves have everything; and they have it because they are white. Yes, I’m saying it — Q & A
is one of the most unflinching and frankly devastating examinations of
race in America that has ever been filmed. For it shows that how you
are born is who you are. Trying to change that singular fact will only get you killed — by the powers that be and always will be.
The film opens with Lt. Michael Brennan (Nolte) shooting a
Puerto Rican drug-dealer/small time thug in the head. He then grabs all
the eye-witnesses and forces them at gunpoint to “see” that the dead
guy had a .45 in his hand. Of course, the deceased was holding nothing.
Routine enough, right? Enter Assistant District. Attorney Aloysius ‘Al’
Francis Reilly (Timothy Hutton in one of his finest performances). The
police chief, Quinn, puts him on the case mostly we come to learn,
because Reilly’s father was one of New York’s “finest.” And by
“finest,” Quinn means a gray-meat corrupt cracker of the highest order
who hated “niggers, spicks, junkies and faggots.” Of course Reilly
thinks his old man was honorable. Well, at the beginning anyway. Reilly
is to question Brennan and then present that “Q & A” to the grand
jury — an open and shut case. Only, of course, Reilly isn’t an old
boy. He won’t play ball, especially when he learns that not only did
the dead man never carry a .45 (he instead kept a .32 in his boot), but
that his old love Nancy (Sidney’s daughter Jenny Lumet) is mixed up
deep in all of this. She’s dating the man the dead guy worked for,
Bobby Tex (Armand Assante).
I know I’m bogging you down with too much plot, but the
storyline is complex and the characters are many. But, we’ve seen this
exact story (or one close too it) several times before and since.
Replace Reilly with Exley and Quinn with Dudley and pre- Giuliani New
York with noired-out Los Angeles and you have L.A. Confidential. Still, this film has much going for it. Nolte’s Brennan, a precursor for both Keitel in Bad Lieutenant and Ray Liotta in Narc,
is extraordinary. A cruel thug of the highest order who puts people at
ease through (possibly) exaggerated tales of his own cocksure police
escapades, Nolte has never been more imposing. Brennan is simply a
lummox of a man; huge, brutal and unkempt. He keeps his nose squarely
where the scum live and is alternately described as “the best cop on
the force” and a “fag-killer.” And Nolte does a fantastic job; rarely
has he been this good. There’s one scene in particular that really
sells his character. He’s looking for a stool pigeon of his named Roger
(Paul Calderon) who’s an eyewitness to the killing. Roger is gay.
Brennan convenes a cadre of hookers on some street corner. Towering
above them all — I’m not describing this right. Sorry. Let me try
Nolte goes to a particularly busy street corner and calls all
the hookers who are working it over and tells them he is looking for
Roger. He does a one-man good cop/bad cop bit where he is quite warm
and friendly, hugging some of the girls but basically threatening them
at the same time. There’s one transvestite hooker, who logically makes
the most sense since Roger trucks that way. Nolte, lifts the hooker’s
skirt, grabs the poor guy’s cock and balls and demands to know where
Roger is, adding “don’t you fucking come in my hand, you little
faggot.” It is a scene of raw brutality that you really ought witness
for yourself. The Italian Mob is naturally mixed up in the whole thing,
too. Brennan, in some capacity, is working for them and is meeting with
three goodfellas in a palatial estate to ask permission to kill Bobby
Tex. One of the mobsters says no, Bobby Tex, while Puerto Rican, is a
good earner. Brennan says, fuck that, he’s going to kill Bobby anyhow.
The mobster tells Brennan to watch his mouth and show respect. “Or
what?” Brennan barks. “You’re going to put on your Al Capone face? You
want to step out right now? You want guns right here? You want to go in
the kitchen with knives? You’re talking to me. I chew up you fucking
wise guys and spit out fags! You hear?” He then proceeds to lay his
hands on the guy and rip his shirt off. In front of the old Italian
stereotype boss guy. And he walks out of the house. Sure, when he
leaves they decide to snuff him out, but still… fucking hard-ass!
Scene after scene, Nolte really delivers the goods. And, he has the
biggest moustache this side of Pelican Bay. And he murders not one, but
two guys by telling them to turn around so he can fuck them before
strangling them. “Fag-killer” indeed.
At times the dialogue gets a bit pungent — I almost was
convinced I was watching a Mamet movie. Oddly enough, there is an “Alan
Smithee” credited as a writer, so who knows? Still, even though the
story bogs down at times, Q & A is absolutely saved by one of the most satisfying endings I’ve ever seen (OK, the very
end is far-fetched and silly, but the ten minutes proceeding it — holy
shit!). Reilly learns conclusively that it was Colonel Mustard with the
pipe in the study. But before the DA can move with indictments, Brennan
grabs him. What transpires is one of the greatest monologues ever
filmed and we learn why exactly it was Reilly was tapped for this case.
Oh, Reilly. You just loved the idea of your father.
Now, your father was dirty. He was as dirty as they come. Nothing big,
just penny-ante stuff. You know, free meals. A place to coop. For a
while, he was a bag man for a pad in the South Bronx. The normal stuff.
He took home $100, $150 a week. That’s all. But hell, what a cop. Like
me, he was the first through the door, the window, the skylight! I
mean, he knew there were animals
out there! He knew there was a line the niggers, the spics, the
junkies, the faggots had to cross to get into people’s throats. He was
that line. I am that line. And the fucking judges and Jew
lawyers, Aldermen and guinea DAs are raking it in. We take a fucking
hamburger and it’s goodbye badge, gun and pension. All the time, it’s our life that’s on the line. It’s our widows and our orphans! Now you’re a rogue cop, you mick bastard! You went from our side to their side.
Suffice to say that Brennan doesn’t make it out alive, but his dying
words are, “Jesus Christ. Taken out by a virgin Heeb.” And the movie
gets better still. For the final showdown between Reilly and his
mentor, Bloomy, is as devastating as cinema gets. A real gutshot, and a
lambasting of essentially our entire system, from the ground up. As I
mentioned at the beginning, race runs thick through this film, and,
well… when seriously corrupt motherfuckers can get away with a
thrity-year crime spree because it means a Puerto Rican’s only chance
at a decent life for his family, Denmark is rank. I know I’m being
vague, but while clunky at times, Q & A is well worth two hours of your time.