Internal Affairs (1990) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

WARNING: Complete Spoilers

Andy Garcia plays a character who shows no signs of love, caring, or humor. His eyes maintain eternal ophidian coldness. He is a manipulative, jealous, sanctimonious, ambitious, self-centered yuppie who doesn't trust his wife, and yet neglects her when he isn't slapping her around in public places. He refers to his partner as a dyke. He also demonstrates a substance abuse problem.

And he's the good guy!

That will tell you something about the kind of police thriller we're dealing with here.

Garcia plays Raymond Avilla, an ambitious newcomer to the Internal Affairs department of LAPD, and he is on the trail of a troubled cop when he determines that the cop's partner should be the real target. The real bad guy is a 40 year old beat cop named Dennis Peck who is essentially at the same rank as when he started in the force because he simply doesn't ever want to go any higher. He loves the life on the streets. He also lives in a $400,000 home and owns two expensive cars, despite the fact that he makes $35,000 a year, has three ex-wives, and is paying child support on eight children! Internal Affairs can see that the facts point to corruption, but Dennis Peck is not an easy man to investigate. He's a highly decorated hero and a loving father with another on the way. He's also an incredibly charming guy who has done favors for everyone on the force from the lowest rookie to the top brass. He has built a series of underworld connections that render him capable of doing almost anything for anybody. Does a struggling cop need to moonlight part-time? Peck finds him a decent job with good pay. Does somebody need his parents killed? Peck can arrange that as well. In fact, when his weak-kneed partner seems about to cave in and turn stoolie to Internal Affairs, Peck uses his underworld connections to arrange a hero's death for the youngster. How did Peck know that the guy was about to turn? Peck was sleeping with the man's wife, who told him everything. In fact, Peck seems to have every man in his pocket and every woman in his bed, and seems to know everything, and everyone's weaknesses.

When Avilla gets too close in his IA investigation, Peck starts to manipulate him as well. Peck can see that the IA man is a workaholic who has an incredibly smokin' neglected wife, so he provokes the investigator with a scheme to make him think that his wife is sleeping with Peck. Peck uses the man's jealousy and hot temper to provoke him into violence, first against Peck, and then against his own wife.

The two men get into a pecker contest that just keeps escalating into a cataclysmic ending.

Is that plot credible? On paper, no.

  • Anybody as clever as Peck would not make it so obvious that he was stealing. A cop paying child support on eight kids driving a new Mercedes convertible and living in a mansion? C'mon. Why not just wear a sign that says. "Bribes accepted. We take all major credit cards."
  • No police force would let an investigator continue on a case after he beat the shit out of the guy he was investigating, as Avilla did to Peck.
  • An important conflict in the movie, between the good cop and his wife, is provoked simply because she refuses to say, "Oh I had lunch with some guy named Dennis Peck, and he asked me tons of questions about you." That statement would have been the simple truth, and would immediately have drained all the tension from their relationship. Instead, the tension was maintained because he had seen her lunching with Peck and she refused to acknowledge it. She kept up with the "It's none of your business" line, thus provoking him into a jealous rage. But why would she do that? The lunch was innocent and she should simply have explained what actually happened. Her behavior wasn't credible. It was just a necessary script device.
  • It was not credible that Peck would shoot the other IA cop (Avilla's partner). Up until that point, all of his evil actions were deniable schemes, and there was a question of whether he could weasel his way out of trouble. But there was no way to deny having shot a cop in front of witnesses. In essence, that meant he would have to be caught and killed or imprisoned, and therefore made everything that came after it anticlimactic.

The whole concept is really ridiculous on paper, and yet this film works in the sense that you don't raise many serious credibility questions while you are watching it. It works because the director did a masterful job of involving the audience with the characters, and of maintaining the tension in scene after scene. In one example, Avilla watches from across a busy street as his wife lunches with Peck. He frets and paces back and forth, his anger and shock escalating, exacerbated by the frustration he feels at not being able to hear what they are saying, and that the traffic sporadically blocks his view. The audience is inside his head, feeling his frustration, yet also aware that he's being manipulated, because the director occasionally switches the camera to a shot inside the restaurant, where we can hear that the couple is having a perfectly innocent conversation. In scene after scene, the director's choices are perfect: the music, the camera set-ups, the editing, and so forth. The film is dripping with malevolent tension. Impressive! The action scenes are not as good, but this is really not an action movie. The scenes that need to be good are good. (The director is Mike Figgis, later of Leaving Las Vegas fame)

Do you recognize the basic plot line? An evil, manipulative white male character uses the minority hero's own jealousy and lack of emotional control against him. The hero is married to a beautiful white woman. At one point, the scoundrel even presents physical evidence of the hero's wife's infidelity - like a pair of panties or, oh, I don't know, maybe a handkerchief. If you think about it enough, you'll see that Internal Affairs was inspired in many respects by Shakespeare. Dennis Peck, in presenting the incriminating panties to Avilla, is a modern version of Iago presenting the incriminating handkerchief to Othello. In other scenes, Peck provokes other characters to evil action - even murder - just for the sheer joy of manipulation. Pure Iago!

Here's a surprise for you if you haven't seen the film: the Iago role is played by Richard Gere. If you think that is completely against type, think about it some more. Dennis Peck is an evil, manipulative man but he appears completely charming on the surface. He's a handsome, seductive ladies man who is desired by most women, and whose affability and helpfulness make him popular with men as well. He even loves children, and much of his behavior is attributable to his desire to give all of his kids something better than a life of dire poverty. It seems to me that Gere was the perfect choice to play this role. If the actor were any less attractive, or any less convincingly seductive, or any less sensitive with his children, we could not believe that a simple beat cop had built such a massive secret empire. More predictable casting, like Christopher Walken or John Malkovich, would not have worked with this role, but Gere had all the right stuff. It very well may be the best performance of his career.

I really only had one complaint about the film. With such a delicious set-up, I wish the screenwriter could have come up with a better ending than to have one of the two men standing with a smoking gun over the other's body lying face-down in a pool of blood. I grant that the dialogue between them in that showdown was inventive and that the scene was presented skillfully and with dramatic impact - the kind of impact that leaves the audience shivering as they watch a frozen tableau while the music plays over the closing credits. Having granted that, I just wish that Peck could have used his death in some ironic way - to get a massive insurance settlement, or to frame Avilla for a crime, or something like that, instead of just "Bang, bang, you're dead. Roll credits."

Oh well, that's only a quibble, so let's give credit where credit is due, and plenty is due. Given that I hated both main characters and the ending, I think it's a fair conclusion to say that the director and actors did a helluva job in putting it all together, because I really enjoyed watching this movie. In fact, I think it is a good enough film that it merits a better DVD. I'd like to see a DVD with a director's and or writer's commentary, with the deleted scenes (there was a scene in the trailer which never made it into the movie), and with both versions (widescreen and full screen) which have been issued in the past.



  • The transfer is widescreen, but is letterboxed, not enhanced for 16x9 screens. In this case, a full screen version (of the full frame variety) would have been preferable, since it would have included nudity not seen in the widescreen transfer.
  • Absolutely no features of any kind.



  • Nancy Travis shows her left breast in a shower scene. This nudity can only be seen in the full-screen video tape version. The same scene in on the widescreen DVDs, but Travis's breast is below the visibility line.

  • Faye Grant shows her bosom in a sex scene with Richard Gere.

The Critics Vote ...

Miscellaneous ...


The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It opened in the #4 slot, and never generated much heat, but did stay in the Top Ten for many weeks. It grossed $28 million in a maximum of 917 theaters. It wasn't a hit, but call it a qualified success.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is a C+, really top-notch genre fare as a psychological thriller. Complex, three-dimensional characters in a manipulative see-saw battle. You could argue for a B- because it has 100% positive reviews, and was at least a moderate success at the box office, if not actually a hit.

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