Veteran cop John Murphy (Paul Newman) is very set in his ways but must face the changing realities of a tough job in an even tougher neighbourhood – the 41st Precinct in the middle of the South Bronx, New York.
This 40-block radius has the highest crime rate, the most corrupt cops “on the take,” the biggest list of disability claims from cops injured on the job, and the largest number of men out on sick leave at any given time on the city payroll. It is little wonder nobody wants to go to work at ‘Fort Apache’.
The brave cops who do get through it alive have to deal with junkies, child abuse, muggings, rapes, street prostitution, vandalism, riots, and other horrors most New Yorkers don’t even dream about in nightmares.
Rookie cops are slaughtered in their own squad cars, men in uniform are walking targets for hoods and lunatics, and it’s open season on cops at all hours of the day and night.
Nobody goes into the battleground without a gun, but as Newman says: “it don’t matter how many guns you got – you still only got two hands.”
Newman plays that rare bird – the honest cop. He’s from three generations of Irish cops named Murphy. He has dedicated eighteen years to the job, delivered seventeen babies on the beat, has twice been busted down from the rank of sergeant, and learned to take the poor pay, low prestige and public contempt as part of the job.
But he also has compassion for the poverty-stricken inhabitants of this sewer who are tired of being victims of their own environment.
When he sees a fellow cop throw an innocent Puerto Rican kid to his death from the top of a building, he has to wrestle with his own conscience. Should he turn stool pigeon and stop the police brutality and corruption on the force, or let it pass the way the other cops do?
Then his own girlfriend, a young Puerto Rican nurse at the local hospital (Rachel Ticotin), dies of a heroin overdose, and he finally cracks. For the first time, he must face his own moral ethics and his own value as a human being.
The rest of this galvanising movie shows what happens when Murphy decides to fight injustice his own way, turn his back on the precinct, and clean up Fort Apache.
But once a cop, always a cop, and there’s a surprise ending that will leave everybody cheering.
The harrowing events are based on the true adventures of former cops Tom Mulhearn and Pete Tessitore, who spent years in the battle zone. The cop jargon, masterfully written by Heywood Gould, is accurate. The conditions are shocking.
A talented cast and intelligent storyline add to an already smart performance by Newman, and Fort Apache, The Bronx delivers a kidney punch you won’t forget – and does it with integrity and intelligence.
Captain Dennis Connolly