When we watched Lethal Weapon for our latest episode, one thing about the movie struck me as interesting. So interesting, in fact, that I completely forgot to talk about it on the podcast… Then again, it doesn’t really have anything to do with Christmas, which is why I’m going to talk about it here instead: It’s the way this movie portrays the LAPD.
Murtaugh and Riggs are two of LA’s finest, detectives who could not be more different partnered up through mere circumstance. Murtaugh is a straight-laced, by-the-book type of sergeant, while Riggs is ground zero for the “loose cannon on the edge” stereotype. As it turns out, though, they share a common bond as Vietnam veterans. It’s never explicitly mentioned, but we’re led to assume that Murtaugh might have simply been a private during his time in the war. Meanwhile, Riggs’ role as a trained special forces assassin becomes an integral piece of the film’s admittedly convoluted puzzle. In both cases, Murtaugh and Riggs are outliers in their field. In between is where things go a little screwy.
When we first enter Murtaugh’s precinct, we see a group of officers standing around singing Silent Night. Badly. They are out of sync and offkey. As we’ll find out later in the movie, the cops are somewhat out of touch with the public at large, and this little scene illustrates that by showing that the movie’s average cop can’t even carry a tune.
Later, when a witness’s house explodes, Murtaugh and Riggs try to question some neighborhood kids about any shady characters they might have seen around the house. The kids refuse to answer Murtaugh’s questions because, as one of them blurts out, “Mama says cops kill black people!” (The more things change, the more they stay the same.)
Lethal Weapon was written and directed in the middle of the crack epidemic, and it stands to reason that screenwriter Shane Black and director Richard Donner saw/read a lot about this kind of thing in LA at the time. Their film makes a concerted effort to establish the inner lives of Murtaugh and Riggs, lest we view these two as little more than badges and guns. One is a dedicated family man coming to terms with the fact that he’s just turned 50; the other is a widower dealing with bouts of suicidal depression. Lethal Weapon goes far out of its way to show us that these two are better than the typical beat cops you see on the nightly news. They’re the good guys!
Sorry, every other cop in the movie. Better luck next time.