Judge Christopher Kulik once had a flock of sheep, though he didn't have them to satisfy fetishes.
Evil has many faces. He has seen them all.
Coming off the heels of I Could Never Be Your Woman, we have another film going directly to DVD due to studio screwing. Because of what is now being called the Bauer-Martinez fiasco, the Richard Gere thriller The Flock got the misfortune of being released overseas for well over a year, yet never reaching U.S. cinemas. What's really creepy is that The Flock has been virtually slaughtered by negative criticism from many of the nation's top critics. Now that it has come to DVD courtesy of Genius Products, is it really as bad as it's reputed to be?
Facts of the Case
Erol Babbage (Richard Gere, The Hoax) is a burn-out who has reached the end of his career. For the past 20 years, he has been working for the Dept. of Public Safety, keeping an eye on his "flock": a group of paroled sex offenders, rapists, and extreme fetishists. Disliked by most of his co-workers, and spending most of his time circling the newspaper headlines, he has become a man obsessed with his subjects. He's become so obsessed, in fact, that he occasionally takes the law into his own hands by opening up a can of whoop-ass on his registrants if they act suspiciously.
Recently forced to retire, the disgruntled Babbage must now train his replacement, Allison Lowry (Claire Danes, Shopgirl), over the course of the next 18 days. Soon, they visit a hairdresser named Viola (KaDee Strickland, American Gangster) who is now sick of being hounded by Babbage for information, followed by a battered girl (singer Avril Lavigne) who recently got her front tooth chipped by her latest boyfriend (Babbage's newest registrant). However, a real challenge comes when a 17-year-old girl gets kidnapped; Babbage is convinced that one of his flock is involved, but Allison feels determined to control his reckless ways if they are to find the girl.
If The Flock sounds like nothing new, you are so right. I wasn't expecting much, but in the end I actually liked it. The performances are rock-solid, the story moves at a swift pace, and—despite some ugliness—it works as a reasonable time-killer. As with all thrillers, red herrings and inconceivable plot twists are filtered in the script (by Hans Bauer & Craig Mitchell, Highwaymen), though most of them are restricted to the final half hour. As a matter of fact, the film's biggest disappointment is the ending; I won't reveal what happens, but let's just say it completely undermines an overall entertaining, well-crafted yarn.
What's most interesting about this film is that it's the American debut of Wai-keung Lau. Billed here as Andrew Lau, he is actually the Hong Kong director responsible for the Infernal Affairs trilogy that inspired The Departed. Granted, the visual style is not all that exciting, though there are some cool camera shots employed, as well as effective close-ups.
What's even more interesting is the version of The Flock that debuted on DVD is not the original version by the director. Ironically, like Babbage's character, Lau got fired (for unknown reasons), and was eventually replaced by Neils Mueller (The Assassination Of Richard Nixon). Though uncredited, Mueller was responsible for re-shoots and completing the picture. The original version—which Lau may or may not have completed himself—went to theaters overseas with almost 10 additional minutes of footage. If you look at the back of the DVD case, there is a still of Gere fending off a wolf…though no wolves are present in the film!
In the end, we have a flawed but quite accessible thriller that gets most of its mileage from its lead actors. I've always considered Richard Gere more of a movie star than an actor, though there are exceptions, such as An Officer And A Gentleman, Primal Fear, and The Hoax. Add to those his performance in The Flock as a man who has met so many sickos (and seen so much perversion), that he has come to slapping his subjects when they even think of dirty things. Amusingly enough, Richard Roeper called Gere's performance a combination of Dirty Harry and Travis Bickle (I would include a bit of Paul Kersey in there, too). Nonetheless, he's always believable and more than impressive.
On the other hand, Claire Danes has never impressed me. At first glance, she isn't given much to do except look on in bewilderment at Gere's unorthodox behavior. Still, she holds her own more often than not, and eventually becomes a credible catalyst to her aging mentor. This makes her character even more emotionally complex than Babbage's because she is constantly torn between going by the book or embracing his street-smart ways. In my opinion, she has never been better.
The supporting cast leaves a lot to be desired, however. Don't even get me started on Avril Lavigne, who looks just as fake and trashy as she does in her grating music videos. (Plus, why the hell does she have fourth billing, when she is in only one scene?)
Genius Products presents The Flock in an excellent, 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. Some of the scenes are a bit too dark, though black levels and colors remain consistently sharp throughout. The DD 5.1 Surround track is a welcome addition, with Guy Farley's eerie, if rather familiar, score coming through with hardly any distortions. Subtitles are also available in English and Spanish.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The Flock is not for those with weak stomachs. While gore is limited and the perversions never graphic, there is still that uncomfortable aura of degradation and disgust present. Harking back to Se7en, Hardcore, and many other films, there are scenes that register strong, almost unbearable unpleasantness. Put it this way: if you cannot take photos of severed limbs, it's best you leave this film on the shelf. (As for me, I thought the most unpleasant thing was watching Lavigne attempting to act.)
The absence of bonus features is a disappointment. Still, it's not much of a surprise, considering the film's troubled production. Commentaries and interviews are one thing, though what gripes me is the exclusion of deleted scenes that were present in overseas prints.
While The Flock is far from a great film, I certainly recommend it as a rental. The subject matter may turn you off, though it's worth seeing for Gere and Danes. Along with his turn in The Hoax, Gere is getting close to Oscar-worthiness for the first time in his career.
The movie is free to go, though Genius Products is found guilty of giving us an incomplete film with no bonus features.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
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