This ambitious Australian police corruption drama skirts the perimeters of PRINCE OF THE CITY and Q&A. Intelligently scripted but murkily directed and atmospheric to a fault, THE CUSTODIAN squanders its suspense potential in order to slam home some familiar points about media
exploitation of crime.
Abandoned by his alcoholic wife, defiant individualist Detective James Plato Quinlan (Anthony LaPaglia) doesn't have the patience to avoid stepping on the toes of criminals and fellow officers. While under investigation by Internal Affairs, Quinlan spots signs of corruption elsewhere in the
department. He begins to suspect his best friend, Detective Frank Church (Hugo Weaving), but I.A. supervisor Bryan Ferguson (Barry Otto) claims he's paranoid and keeps him under investigation. Quinlan devises a ruthless plan to root out cops on the take. Deliberately incriminating himself, he
agrees to sell favors to mob figures while anonymously feeding tips to a zealous TV reporter, Tony Reynolds (Kelly Dingwall), whose station director is loath to touch any anti-cop scandal that might upset the political establishment. Next, he goads the reporter to tell Ferguson about his own part
in a rip-off of marijuana seized as evidence. Snake-in-the-grass Church pumps his buddy about his loyalties; meanwhile, Ferguson is nearly caught faxing his superior officer's files to the TV station. Following informant Quinlan's instructions, Reynolds drops the bombshell about police corruption
at a press conference; the scandal becomes a media sensation. Unfortunately, Reynolds inadvertently reveals his informant's identity to his official enemies. Ferguson then discovers that his pregnant wife, Claire (Skye Wansey), has been garroted by a member of the force. After surviving an attempt
on his life, Quinlan gives up Church as the murderer to Ferguson, who raids Church's home, forces him to reach for his piece, and shoots him at point blank range. For his key role in the expose, Quinlan is given a reduced sentence.
THE CUSTODIAN sags under the weight of its many subplots. Although the whys and wherefores of Quinlan's unusual pilgrimage to justice are potentially engaging, director-writer John Dingwall (who helmed the excellent low-budget thriller PHOBIA) seems to have intentionally avoided conventional
suspense techniques, perhaps in the mistaken belief that a plodding narrative befits a serious theme. Moments of visual aplomb fail to propel the leaden, pessimistic screenplay forward. Still, there's a degree of power in the character study of two friends who take divergent moral paths and become
entangled in overlapping forms of betrayal. LaPaglia, who reverts to his native Australian accent here, seems in danger of imploding from anger; it's a brave and arresting performance. If only THE CUSTODIAN exhibited more finesse in juggling its multiple sidebars and in cross-cutting its subplots
for maximum impact. Often abstruse, this thinking man's thriller needed sharper editing and a more finely-tuned screenplay. (Graphic violence, extreme profanity, extensive nudity.)
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: R
- Review: This ambitious Australian police corruption drama skirts the perimeters of PRINCE OF THE CITY and Q&A. Intelligently scripted but murkily directed and atmospheric to a fault, THE CUSTODIAN squanders its suspense potential in order to slam home some familia… (more)