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Hipster Holy Grail: Deadly Justice aka "The Rape of Richard Beck" (1985)

The Hipster Holy Grail is my ongoing quest to review an obscure movie before it becomes cool to talk about it. Good, bad, doesn't matter.  It just has to be at least 10 years old and have less than 1,000 ratings on IMDb. This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

The most depressing thing about The Rape of Richard Beck (later renamed Deadly Justice for its DVD release) is not its titular rape, but rather the fact that it was released when I was only one year old yet very little about its message or politics has actually aged.  The day we all look at this as a quaint, obsolete fable will be the dawn of a glorious era.

My Rating: 4 / 5

The Plot Summary

As you might guess from the movie's original title, Deadly Justice involves the rape of one Richard Beck (Richard Crenna), a homicide detective in Seattle.  When the movie opens, Beck is a misogynistic loose cannon type.  He's not necessarily a bad guy, just kind of an asshole who lets his shitty attitudes get in the way of treating people with proper respect and dignity.

The first twenty minutes or so are a bit slow since it's really just a setup for you to meet all the different people in Beck's life.  For example, his fellow officer, Chappy (Pat Hingle), or his ex-wife, Caroline (Francis Lee McCain), or Barbara (Meredith Baxter), a case worker for rape victims.  Not many of them are really all that important from a plot perspective; the film is 100% about Beck's evolution as a person, so the supporting cast is really just there to provide further reflection on his growth.

Early on in the movie, Beck is tasked with arresting a dude named Bozer who's been accused of multiple rapes.  However, Bozer also figures into an unrelated homicide case in a way I'm not entirely sure I understood.  So, Beck decides to, in his words, "trade up."  He lets Bozer walk away free in exchange for a solid lead on that case, which shortly thereafter leads to Beck arresting a murderer.  Hooray?

Beck's fellow cops are all jazzed about it, but Barbara is understandably pissed off that Beck ignored his orders, since her hard work is what led to anybody at all being assigned to reign Bozer in.  She puts some pressure on the police chief, who decides to re-assign Beck to the sex crimes unit as sort of a punishment / demotion.

Unsurprisingly, Beck is not a great fit for his new role.  He's the type who uses "she was asking for it" as a mantra.  The very first case he's called in to work on involves a nude rape victim who has barricaded herself in a public phone booth and is hysterically resisting any efforts to get her out. Beck basically just forces his way into the booth and pulls her out, and later that night he regales his fellow cops at the bar with lewd stories about her.  (The key detail, you see, is that she was naked.  Everybody has a hearty laugh about this because people weren't naked very often back in the '80s.)

After his work day is done, Beck goes for a midnight drive, apparently looking for somebody to bust just for the thrill of it.  He stumbles across a couple of guys that he thinks are drug dealers and tries to make an arrest.  They run away, so he chases them through a nearby warehouse.  Somewhere along the way, they manage to turn the tables and corner him.

Cue the rape scene.  It's one of the better-filmed rape scenes you'll see in a movie, which is a sentence you really don't ever want to write.  Like, how do you manage to sell somebody on that?  "It's one of the most deplorable things you'll ever see, but it's done really well.  Come on, check it out."

The director, Karen Arthur, handles it about as well as you possibly can.  The actual rape itself is never seen, nor are the physical details ever described in any kind of vividness when Beck has to recount it later on.  Instead, the scene (and his later retelling) focuses on other details to give you a gut-wrenching feeling of dread, knowing that you're going to fill in all the blanks with the worst shit you can think of.  So, it's an incredibly disturbing and upsetting sequence despite nothing happening on screen.

In the aftermath, the rapists steal Beck's car and leave him a beaten, humiliated mess.  A bystander - who witnessed at least part of the rape - calls 911 and gives his testimony to the police.  Beck, in the meantime, wants nothing to do with anybody.  For awhile.  He doesn't want to talk about what happened, he doesn't want anybody to touch him, and he's completely shell-shocked.

Surprisingly - or maybe not, since this is kind of the whole point of the movie - the most horrific and brutal parts of Deadly Justice happen after the rape.  Beck has to undergo medical examination and treatment while under supervision of some fellow officers, which makes him even more uncomfortable and humiliated.  Then the rest of the force talks shit about him and spreads rumors - equal parts, "Well, he shouldn't have let it happen to him in the first place, it's his own fault" and "He wasn't raped, he was secretly gay and exchanging sex for drugs."  And he's so wracked by guilt, shame, and terror that he can't even bring himself to pick out the rapists from a line-up after they're arrested.

For a little while, we see Beck's downfall as his life spirals further and further out of control.  His relationship with his father is essentially broken after his dad, a former cop, gets disgusted with him for "allowing" the rape to happen.  Beck, in turn, sours his relationship with his son by distancing himself and lashing out angrily.  He can't make a dinner night with his girlfriend work and ends up having a violent episode with her.  Pretty much everybody who's ever liked him before is either disgusted by him now or is trying to help, but he's rejecting them because he's a man from the '80s and has no ability to process grief.

Later, Barbara confronts Beck about that Bozer situation and Beck decides to make things right.  He tracks Bozer down at a shipping yard and arrests him, then frees a would-be rape victim in Bozer's van.  That last part is there to show us how much he's changed, as he approaches her with empathy and gentleness that we didn't see earlier in the movie.

We don't get to see Beck patch up too many relationships, so the implication is that he basically told most of his fellow officers to go fuck themselves.  But you do get to see Beck making up with his ex-wife and son.  One of the last scenes is him telling his son that they should talk about everything sometime soon, which seems to simultaneously weird out and comfort his kid.

In the very last scene, Beck is instructing some younger officers - presumably cadets at the academy - about rape, and advising them on the appropriate ways to speak to victims of sexual assault.  The lesson boils down to, "Take them seriously and don't be an asshole," which you'd think is an obvious lesson.  But it's 2017 and we have an orange pedophile for a president, so let's not take anything for granted.

What I Liked / Didn't Like

Let me get the negative out of the way.  First of all, this was a made-for-TV movie, and while that doesn't inherently mean it's bad, I do think it handicaps the film.  Made-for-TV movies, especially when they air on network television and have to have commercial breaks, are at a disadvantage when it comes to mood building.  You very easily get distracted by reminders that you're watching TV.  Some movies handle that better than others, and Deadly Justice actually handles a fair amount of its commercial breaks pretty well.

Other parts are... less good.  The end credits in particular are awful - it ends with Beck giving that speech, and then the credits roll over a freeze frame of him making a stern face.  The sudden jump from "soul-searching lesson about empathy" to "Sunday afternoon feature" is jarring and undercuts the drama.

There are also a few plot threads and characters I could have done without.  Beck has a girlfriend who only barely figures into the story.  It seems she's just there to give him somebody else to react to poorly after his rape.  For that matter, Barbara is something of a wasted opportunity.  She gets a bit of time to shine, but considering that her role is to be an advocate for rape victims, it's ironic that she gets so little screen time.

And from a plot perspective, I guess I'd have to criticize it for not being terribly gripping.  The movie takes awhile to build up any steam.  I hate to be crass, but there were parts in the first half hour when I was looking at the clock thinking, "Is this fucker going to get raped or what?"

But ignore all that.  At the end of the day, I think you can measure the success or failure of a movie based on one metric above all else: Did it do what it set out to do?  In other words, if you're making a comedy, is it funny?  If you made an action movie, did it have exciting action scenes?  And if you're making a political commentary to shine a light on society's dehumanizing and hypocritical attitudes toward rape, did you actually say anything of substance?  Deadly Justice did, so it gets an automatic pass.

This is the sort of movie that I would make required viewing if I ever taught a high school sociology or sex ed class.  It does a terrific job of illustrating not only how bad the problem is, but how deeply it permeates everything.  And it does so in about as PG-friendly terms as you possibly can get.

One of the best scenes is when Beck is having a hard time handling the trauma and he says something to Barbara to the effect of, "You have no idea what this is like," and she has to put him in his place and say, "Son of a bitch, this is literally a full-time job for me."  Beck's male privilege is so bad that even after he's raped, he still can't fully empathize until it's pointed out to him that he's just one case out of thousands.

Another great scene, and especially heartbreaking, is when Beck's father turns on him after the rape.  It's a perfectly-acted bit where you can see contempt dripping out of his every pore - "How could you let this happen to you?  I can't even look at you anymore."  That's the kind of shitty "I could totally have handled that better than you, you pansy" attitude that guys have all the time.  It sucks that most dudes can't seem to recognize just how shitty it is until it's put to them in terms they understand - like an asshole dad.

That might be the right way to describe this movie.  It's a pretty good overview of all the shitty things guys do and think about rape distilled into 90 minutes and broken out in guy-friendly terms.  Like, if you know some bro who doesn't get why people are pissed off that his lacrosse buddy only got four months of community service for date rape, you could show this to him and be like, "There's a quiz at the end."  Casting Richard Crenna as Richard Beck was an act of genius.  He's classy enough and talented enough to pull off the range and gravitas needed for the role, but has all the macho chops and guy movie cred to anchor the film to the audience it needs to be seen by.

The more I think about it, the more I feel like I can't really review this honestly as a film; it's so much more of an educational tool (and a good one at that).  It's something I'd absolutely recommend, just not as a casual watch.

I'll end this segment on this thought.  I saw this user review on IMDb while getting my notes ready:

Somebody wrote this in 2002, when I was still in high school.  I'd like to think people have gotten better, but considering that about as much time has passed from then to now as had passed from when the movie was released to when that review was written, I have a suspicion there's still a significant chunk of the male population that thinks this way, and it's to them I address the next few paragraphs.

This is classic victimization bullshit.  And I should know - I used to do the same thing all the time.  Life gets immeasurably better when you realize what you're doing and knock it off.

It happens when I seek to alleviate my own guilt by stealing victimhood away from you, somebody who suffered a legitimate misfortune.  You no longer get to weep for the tragedy that happened to you, because I'm now a victim.  Take your pick - I'm a victim of the "liberal machine" trying to silence my freedom of speech, or I'm a victim of man-shaming, or I'm a victim of whatever other nonsense crime I've chosen to invent to make your voice small.

But here's the thing I and my fellow victims don't seem to understand.  Nobody chooses to be a victim - not even victims.  You know why?  Because victims are weak.  Victims lean on their trauma for an identity and use that to justify their shortcomings.  Men are victims.  Whites are victims.  Rich people are victims.

Everyone else is a straight up survivor.

You think rape is going to keep a woman down?  Fuck you.  It'll hurt, it'll leave a scar forever, it'll be the worst thing imaginable, but it's not going to define her.  She'll bounce back while you're complaining about your freedoms on the Internet with all the rest of God's mistakes.  So you can either sulk and be a victim, or you can acknowledge that your shitty attitude is part of the reason rapes happen and maybe do your best to not be a shithead.

How Much Hipster Cred Is It Worth?

I'll give it 20 cred for obscurity, plus 5 cred for having "justice" in the title.  Let's go with another 10 points for being a made-for-TV movie, and another 10 for the subject matter - not that rape is hipstery, but political discussions from 30 years ago that are still relevant today are perfect fodder for the ol', "Hmm, I've known about this long before you did" that hipsterdom is known for.

I really want to give it some cred for the use of outdated technology, but unfortunately, the movie doesn't use said technology as the crux of any plot threads, and on top of that, it actually comments on the changing pace of technology, thus obliterating any chance of ironic obsolescence.

So, it'll have to settle for a not-too-high 45 hipster cred out of a possible 100.

Where You Can Watch

This was released on DVD at least twice and is still pretty well-circulated, so a legit copy shouldn't be too hard to track down.  It's also currently on Youtube if you go before it gets pulled for copyright violations.