Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt

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There's something particularly gritty about 70s crime dramas, something that all of the handheld camerawork and 'captured' moments in film and television today that bear the influence of that era nevertheless fail to replicate. Most people would say it's the look, but it's not; many of the films in question were indeed shot on quite grainy film stock, but nothing much worse than a standard theatrical print from Super 35 source. Rather, it's in the tone. It's in the pace. It's in the music. It's in the attitude. These films were nasty in ways that the slick and polished films of today can't be because the urban decay that the 70s films were showcasing fit with the dirtier aesthetic a certain way.

The Seven-Ups is a sort of poorer cousin to Bullitt and The French Connection. Philip D'Antoni served as producer on both those projects, and his decision to direct this film himself yielded interesting, if not wholly satisfying results. The story was concieved by Sonny Grosso, the basis for Roy Scheider's character in The French Connection, who stars in this film. D'Antoni's (overly) measured pace and Alexander Jacobs and Albert Ruben's messy screenplay doles out information to the audience in a very confusing manner, but the core of the story is fairly strong, and the finale is a bit darker than most of this type of film.

Scheider's character Buddy leads a special group of police known as the "Seven-Ups," who specialize in apprehending criminals whose sentences will be no less than seven years - and whose methods are often called into question by their peers. He is dedicated to his job... perhaps a little too dedicated, for as the other members of his team have families, Buddy shuns anything and anybody not directly related to his job. He does have an old friend he went to school with, Vito (Tony Lo Bianco), now an undertaker who has an inside bead into the machinations of the mob world. Buddy has been feeding Schieder information, but he's also behind the actions of Moon (Richard Lynch) and Bo (Bill Hickman), dangerous thugs who have been kidnapping leaders in organized crime for ransom.

Vito is perhaps the most interesting character in the film. He has gotten a taste of how the other half lives and wants a bit of it, but he isn't cruel enough to cross the line and become a full-blown gangster. The victims don't know who is behind all this, only that they can't complain about it to their superiors for fear of being seen as weak and they obviously can't rely on the police, so they are pushed against the wall. A great plan, except that Moon and Bo are posing as police officers, and when the Seven-Ups cross their paths, following a lead about mob activity, the resulting confusion leads to violent results. Events spiral way out of Vito's control, despite his efforts to put a stop to everything.

Stylistically, the film is much more conservative than William Friedkin's docudrama approach on The French Connection, hearkening a bit more to Peter Yates' measured work on Bullitt. The film does drag a bit here and there in the first two acts, but one is forced to concentrate on the story and characters. An example of what works and doesn't work in this film can be seen in the car chase that finishes off the second act; this is clearly D'Antoni and stunt co-ordinator Bill Hickman trying to top themselves with the respective sequences in those other two films, and at times it works, at times it doesn't. There is certainly a very strong feeling of speed and gravity during the chase, and some of the impacts are very vividly communicated. There are great evasion tactics and impressive driving on display. However, the sequence lasts way too long, and at times gets somewhat indulgent.

On the other hand, composer Don Ellis returns from The French Connection to provide a prickly, bubbling score that is very effective. One of the longest cues that appears in the film is heard at the beginning of the above chase, a provocative, building piece that is on par with that irresistible "Subway" cue from The French Connection. There are also incredibly harrowing tracks written for the two car wash scenes that imbue the fairly pedestrian details of the process with a white-knuckle tension. I would love to get this score, but it was never issued, nor is much of Ellis' work available on CD at all, but his edgy, bass-driven score for this film was fantastic.

Overall, I found the film to be more interesting than entertaining, but but it was ultimately rewarding. While the plot takes a while to set up, once the film starts moving, it does a pretty good job of maintaining interest. Schieder (in his first lead role) and Lo Bianco are very good, leading to a great scene between them at the very end of the film, and the music is really exciting. The understated tone of the Urs Furrer's camerawork and the performances make this a much more cerebral movie than most of its brethren, and if the first two acts seem cold and distant, the third act is anything but. The film is also notable for being shot on location in New York using unusual (yet appropriate) locations, so it has the right 'feel,' but doesn't look like the same cop movie you've seen a thousand times.
Tags: cinema, don ellis, film music, reviews
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