I, the Jury
I went to this movie excited, for one major reason: it was scripted by the great Larry Cohen. In fact, he started off directing it, too, but was replaced by Richard Heffron (Futureworld, 1976).
It’s a film about myths and heroes – about control, power and judgment. About who was the right to make the call, the verdict over life and death. But it’s in a different universe from Clint Eastwood’s 1980s movies on these themes. We are somewhere sleazier, less in control here. That’s interesting enough, already.
Its approach to the myths of the crime/detective/cop/gangster genre is unusual: it picks up Mickey Spillane’s infamous character of Mike Hammer (reincarnated by contemporary B movie star Armand Assante) long after the already brutal era of Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly (1955) – now the guy is an odd cipher at the fag end of the genre’s history, coming after Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1972), after a wave of parodies such as Gumshoe (1971).
Hammer here is tagged as “Mr Unnecessary Violence”. He works from the gut instinct of righteous anger over the death of his one-armed best friend. But who is the “I” in this tale? Power is always deferred and displaced in the typically labyrinthine crime/gangster proceedings. It’s everywhere and nowhere.
The film has the intriguing and rather kinky theme of sexual perversion, sexual therapy, sexual control and surveillance. Sex is drawn into a system of power and control. It is a rather Foucauldian vision, thanks to Larry C.!
Every note of triumphalism here is defused: the story is keyed into futility. Yes, the revenge story resolves itself, but in an empty, Pyrrhic way: “How could you do it?” / “It was easy”. There’s no real motivation, no uplifting or even satisfying moral consequence.
I, the Jury is full of bland wisecracks and empty violence – for instance, the scene involving a Japanese chef and a hot plate. All up, it’s a strange movie that negates itself and its appeal throughout but, along the way, produces valuable insights into its genre and its era.
MORE Larry Cohen: Special Effects
© Adrian Martin June 1982