NEW YORK–Set in New York City in 1968, this cop actioner, based on real-life events, is really an anti-capital-punishment tract.
Much-honored police detective David Mitchell (Scott Bakula) apprehends two Mafia enforcers who have killed a young cop.
While the assistant D.A. (Miguel Ferrer) and virtually everyone in Mitchell’s precinct are pushing for the death penalty, Mitchell–who will be called to testify against the pair and possibly help send them to the chair–has a crisis of conscience.
Teleplay heavy-handedly emphasizes the state of New York law in 1968, in which the death penalty is reserved for cop killers only; Ferrer and the rest hope this case will clear the way for executing other murderers as well.
But Mitchell is no Dirty Harry. His job, he says, is just to make the arrest, not pronounce judgment. He struggles touchingly to explain the difference between killing a criminal in the heat of an arrest and methodically preparing a prisoner for the electric chair.
He can’t even find much comfort from a local priest, who tells him, “Capital punishment is not inconsistent with Church doctrine.”
Mitchell becomes a pariah around the station and is also feeling pressure at home, where his wife (Lindsay Frost) is expecting their first child. Insidious events, like the sawing of his car in half, convince him that either his cohorts or mobsters are out to get him.
The script stays doggedly with the capital punishment theme, to the detriment of the story; a subplot about a mob contract taken out on Mitchell is introduced , then dropped.
Bakula is moving as the torn, essentially non-violent officer. Most of the other actors are given pat roles, though Tony Lo Bianco as the lawyer for the cop killers and Robert Forster as an officer who once sent someone to the chair make definite impressions.
In the best scene, Mitchell calls on Forster for advice. The unmarried officer’s unkempt little apartment speaks volumes about the emotional toll he has paid for helping to pull the switch.