(Charles Burnett, USA, 1994) 108 minutes


Director: Charles Burnett
Producers: Tom Byrnes, Carolyn Schroeder
Screenplay: Charles Burnett, loosely based
on a story by J.J. Johnson and Ned Walsh
Photography: Elliot Davis
Editor: Curtiss Clayton
Art director: Joel Carter
Sound: Veda Campbell
Music: Stephen Taylor
Michael Boatman (Deputy J.J. Johnson)
Lori Petty (Deborah)
Ice Cube (Teddy Woods)
Michael Ironside (Detective Gene Baker)
Richard Anderson (Massey)
Bernie Casey (Locket)
Elliott Gould (Greenwall)
M. Emmet Walsh (Hall)
Natalija Nogulich (Judge Helen Lewis)

Reviews and notes

Although The Glass Shield is constantly tense and engrossing, it doesn't have the slam-bang action of a conventional police thriller. And although this picture is one of the most penetrating explorations of institutional racism ever made, it isn't merely accusatory. Burnett knows that the enemy is too large, too complex and too slippery to be defeated by a pointing finger. The Glass Shield circles America's racial battlefield stealthily...

Burnett (Killer of Sheep, To Sleep With Anger) uses the cop-thriller form to make a moving and emotionally acute drama of self-knowledge. The hero, J.J. Johnson, is an eager, idealistic young cop assigned to an L.A. county sheriff's station; he's the first black man ever to serve there. J.J. is caught in a no man's land: members of his own community look at him as if he were a traitor, and the angry white men he works with consider him an outsider.

The movie's early scenes are dominated by Boatman's brilliant performance as a man who, in the attempt to be all things to all people, becomes a mystery to himself. Later, as J.J. begins to uncover evidence of corruption, the film's scope widens, but the director's lucid style never falters. In Burnett's hands, this story dramatizes a simple and profoundly political idea: you can't know yourself until you know what you're part of.

The Glass Shield, in its quiet way, turns the police genre on its head. Hollywood uses 'maverick' cops as the foundations of solid, conservative, investment-protective entertainments. The hero of The Glass Shield is a cop who doesn't want to rock the boat, and, telling his story, Charles Burnett has made the most subversive American movie in years.
? Terrence Rafferty, New Yorker, 12 June 1995.

Weblink: A Film Review by The Lumiere Reader of our screening.

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