Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

From Chinese director Andrew Lau who helmed a film that is easily one of my all time favorites in ‘Infernal Affairs’, of course later remade as ‘The Departed’ with Martin Scorcese in charge and walked away with a best picture Academy Award, despite the fact that ‘The Departed’ used ‘Infernal Affairs’ as a virtual storyboard. Anyway, today we have ‘The Flock’ as Lau makes his American directing debut. However, seeing a celebrated Asian director leading a big time Hollywood style production more times that not hasn’t always been a very good thing as John Woo, Tsui Hark and The Pang Brothers among others have proven but we’re hopeful that ‘The Flock’ can supersede expectations and turn out to be that pleasant surprise.

Young Harriet Wells (Kristina Sisco) is walking down the street minding her own damn business after equestrian practice when she bends over to talk to somebody in a car and disappears. Her disappearance gets the attention of a severely fractured Public Safety worker named Errol Babbage (Richard Gere) whose job it is to monitor his ‘flock’ as he calls them, or individuals who have moved into his area and are registered on the sex offender list. You see Errol takes his job VERY seriously and makes it a point to keep much closer tabs on his clients than the job requires or even wants him to. Unfortunately Errol takes his job seriously to the point that he has incurred the wrath of his boss (Ray Wise) as Babbage has taken to verbally and sometimes physically abusing his flock thus ‘offending the offenders’ as his boss would say. As such Earl has been forced into early retirement and a replacement has been hired named Allison Lowry (Claire Danes) that Errol has eighteen days to train.

Allison sees early on that Errol isn’t quite right considering he carries a gun, asks his sex offenders questions that are way inappropriate, has a hair trigger temper, carries around newspapers circling all sex crimes and is incapable of having a normal conversation. She observes his odd behavior particularly when he was dealing with a Viola Frye (KaDee Strickland), a member of the flock whose husband was executed

for a number of brutal murders against young girls, a fate Viola skated as she was portrayed in court as a victim herself with her only punishment being on Errol’s list of sexual offenders, though Errol is convinced that her role was more than that of an abused bystander. Errol has also taken an intense disliking to the newest member of his list, rich kid rapist Edmond Grooms (Russell Sams) who Errol knows is up to something. But what Errol is truly consumed with is finding this missing girl that his sixth sense tells him has been snatched by somebody on his list and he has committed himself to dragging his new apprentice through his own personal hell to find this missing girl.

With ‘The Flock’ Lau directs a very tight, very taut well acted thriller but it does stumble in that his film asks you, no… begs you to ignore your common sensibilities to buy into a lot of what the screenwriters were selling. Gere gives an effective performance as the driven, borderline pathological public safety official, and presents the unpalatable Errol Babbage as neither heroic nor villainous but extremely tortured. Gere gives the audience a clear path to understanding what drives his character though the explanations for his pathos within the narrative is sketchy at best. Danes also does good work playing off Gere’s borderline insanity and serves as a good conduit bridging in the gap between her curiosity about Babbage’s methods and her desire for justice, but also the clear realization Errol Babbage is flat out of his mind.

Along with the solid performances Lau paces the film well and infuses just the right amount of tension to give this thriller some thrills, but there are still problems within the story itself. For one you have to buy into the fact these are the worst police officers ever in the history of there being police in whatever city this is. I mean they are useless. Actually everybody in the city except for Earl and Allison is useless considering they all sit around drinking coffee and laughing all the time while these two, by themselves, try to save kidnapped teenaged girls. But despite how worthless the cops may be, one would imagine there would be a time when our duo would fill them in on these clues they are uncovering. Tell the cops that you know what the car that kidnapped the girl was taken away in looked like, tell the cops that one of the perps sent his wolf/dog to kill you, tell the cops that think you know where the murderous serial killer is hanging out. No matter how sucky a police department may be, they all have fast cars and big guns which they are more than willing to use these things at the slightest provocation. And far be it for me to stand up for child molesters and rapists but this is America and I’m thinking state employed social workers can’t go around slapping people, verbally abusing people, harassing people, beating people with baseball bats and taking their neck-ties… Not only should Errol Babbage have lost his job YEARS ago, but he probably should be in jail. There are also a couple of unanswered plot holes that I’m guessing the filmmakers left on the cutting room floor because they didn’t come close to answering them, but we won’t spoil it for you.

Since I tend to like these types of thrillers anyway, with its solid cast and very good imported director ‘The Flock’ is an effective entry into the thriller genre. It is far too flawed and its narrative too fractured to be amongst the elite of the genre, but it was still very well worth watching.

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