Despite Bryan Brown’s rugged, authoritative presence, “Devlin” plays like a bloody, twice-told tale. The turf’s overly trod and the characters, despite new names, new faces and superior acting and direction, are overworked.
Brown plays N.Y. cop Devlin, once married to the daughter of big-time operator Bill Brennan (Lloyd Bridges). Brennan’s son is knocked off while running for mayor and Devlin finds himself up to his eyeballs in the assassination; puzzle involves who hired the assassin and why.
David Taylor’s intricate screenplay, with its familiar plotting and solution, focuses on Devlin slowly realizing he’s been set up by whoever hired the killer — who’s murdered by a man who’s also murdered.
Tough Devlin starts following a trail that involves his former father-in-law, Brennan, who hates him; a Jersey Mafia operator, Di Fabrizi (Peter Radon); Devlin’s boss, Chief Wolfe (Lawrence Dane); his partner; his ex-wife; and his current Irish girlfriend Eileen (Roma Downey).
Based on the book by Roderick Thorp, the convoluted plot looks and plays like deja vu as bodies fall into place to point toward the motive and the power behind the deaths; the denouement reveals little that’s jolting.
Director Rick Rosenthal establishes a vigorous, bruising atmosphere that Brown’s Frank Devlin sustains from the kickoff.
Brown’s a rugged, convincing cop and makes Devlin’s persistence believable. Downey’s charming Eileen is a winner and Bridges as the intolerant, unforgiving Brennan is terrif.
Radon’s vicious godfather convinces and Frances Fisher gives a strong perf as Devlin’s foul-mouthed, disturbed former wife.
Neil Roach’s realistic camerawork is admirable and Tony Gibbs’s splendid editing sets a fast pace. Barbara Dunphy’s imaginative production design in New York and Toronto (subbing for N.Y. and New Jersey) creates persuasive setups ranging from murky rendezvous points to elegant sitting rooms.
The only real surprises come when Devlin handles hoods in a grisly, waste-no-time fashion; as urgent a TV movie as this needs more surprises than that.