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Lethal Weapon


The soldier as policeman

This is the story of two L.A. cops. One is black, a family man of fifty years who lives in a suburban house with a garden. He is getting too old for this work. The other is white, in his thirties, he once was married, but now lives alone, widowed, in a trailer, on the beach. They are a generation apart; both fought in Vietnam; both take the police very seriously & therefore practice shooting.

The men agree on one thing: God hates them. Murtaugh endures, being old, but the young Riggs is self-loathing, suicidal, & lacks fear of death. The men would compare pistols, but they do not like working together. The police psych is a woman who wants Riggs off the force for his obvious psychological problems. The men disagree, because they are all men. They cannot understand what Riggs went through in Vietnam, but they believe men should not be humiliated.

Our heroes chart a course leading to a fight against former CIA assassins, currently smuggling drugs. Throughout American history only Vietnam veterans are not admired by the people for whom they fought & died. They were the first soldiers in a major war to be brought home to witness hatred, not the pride of parades. Now, two veterans get to fight corrupt soldiers & earn America’s approval. It goes without saying, their war years remain unsung.

Riggs starts risking his life to get all sorts of police work done; people think he is psychotic, but it is not clear they have any better solution than him. Like in war, men are allowed to achieve great things only because necessity scares the people enough to defer to those who are not scared out of their wits. In the end, he fights an unnecessary fight, to see whether he really is better than the bad guy at fighting.

The cops watch this long fight, taking place at night, of course, on Sgt. Murtaugh’s lawn, who ordered them back & who roots vocally for Riggs. He trusts that he will win the fight & he has enough hatred of the assassin to want to see him humiliated & killed. It would seem that justice without revenge & hatred is not able to command men’s martial virtues. One wonders whether men are not enervated by too much formality.

We are told there are no more heroes. Los Angeles is not the city for heroes, to be honest, but then again few cities are, because the civil peace, or the rule of law, makes life boring, comfortable, & safe. The people quite naturally like this life, because they like to live rather than face danger & the risk of death.

One of the most celebrated action movies of the era when action movies were popular. See it.