“Relentless” has shades of William Lustig’s earlier film, “Maniac,” because of the depiction of a brutal serial killer, but this narrative structure handles the duality of the detectives on the case also, which makes this an interesting variation.
That shifting perspective from the serial killer to the cops who are handling the case does not deter from the excitement and intensity of this picture. This is essentially a gripping police thriller from the late ‘80s that showcases some excellent performances.
Detective Sam Dietz (Leo Rossi) transfers from New York to Los Angeles, where he is partnered with grizzled veteran Bill Malloy (Robert Loggia), who has his opposite method of dealing with their profession. This clash of ideals happens while hot on the trail of a serial killer (Judd Nelson) that seems to be randomly picking his victims out of the phone book.
The first the victim receives a courteous call from the killer, stating that he will stop by later to kill them. Then he leaves a little note for the detectives after the murder, which is written on a page torn from the white pages. This leads Dietz and Malloy into a chilling game of cat-and-mouse.
The material, written by Phil Alden Robinson, (Director of “Field of Dreams”), concocts a brilliant screenplay on what could have been the same formulaic detective stories that we have seen since the early days of “Dragnet.” However, instead, the screenplay crackles with originality, allowing the audience to spend time with both the killer and the detectives. When both worlds collide, you will be at the edge of your seat.
The star of the picture is the third billed Rossi, who you may remember as one of the rapists in “The Accused.” He adds an authentic sense of a true New Yorker to his roles and handles the personal and the professional aspect of his character excellently. Also, his chemistry with Loggia runs the gamut from an initial hatred to overall mutual respect and friendship.
A scene where the two cops bond over their love for the L. A. Dodgers captures the unique essence of this movie and when they agree to go to opening day together, it is easy to understand that this picture wants to be something different. The movie takes small scenes such as this to allow the audience to understand the protagonists.
But the most startling performance comes from former Brat Pack member Nelson, who delivers the message that he is an incredibly talented actor. He plays a sociopath with such strong conviction, rarely breaking a smile, unless he has officially fooled the police. That stone face, combined with the brutal murders he commit, adds that layer of “Maniac” to this piece of mainstream cinema.
On an interesting side note, look for character actor and Lustig-muse Frank Pesce, who was the inspiration for the film, “29th Street.”
This was produced by Columbia Studios and was one of Lustig’s few studio backed film productions. His previous work often involved filming on the streets with no permit. This much slicker production manages to retain that quality without pushing the boundaries of violence.
The end result of this picture is that it leaves the viewer with hope, unlike the horrifically disturbing “Maniac,” which is why “Relentless” is more accessible to audiences.
“Relentless” is a fast-paced, intelligent thriller that should have proved to mainstream audiences that Nelson and Lustig have more talent than often given credit for, but unfortunately, it still remains underrated.