|Review||The Flock (2007)||Director||Andrew Lau|
|Writers||Craig Mitchell and Hans Bauer|
|Cast||Richard Gere, Claire Danes, Ray Wise, KaDee Strickland, Russell Sams, Matt Schulze, Avril Lavigne and Kristina Romero|
“When you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you. The defining moments of our lives are never planned.” – Opening narration (European & Asian version).
Ever since Richard Gere hit it big with 2002’s “Chicago” his movie roles have been very diverse but in much more low-key films that have flown under the radar and recently he’s nearly exclusively been involved in indie films. “The Flock” is an interesting film dealing with a difficult subject matter but it wasn’t widely released and went relatively unnoticed and has, thus, become something of a cult item that I would like to throw some spotlight on.
Apparently for every 1.000 registered sexual offenders there is one case worker monitoring them. Errol Babbage (Gere) is a public servant working for the Department of Public Safety and he keeps tracks of sexual offenders. That entails verifying their current addresses and asking them all sorts of standard questions from a routine questionnaire. From the outset of “The Flock” the viewer clearly sees Errol’s work has got the better of him. He asks his flock (the way he refers to his registrants) very invasive questions and even resorts to slapping them around and he’s gotten nearly hopeless in normal human behaviour. His aggressive attitude has not gone unnoticed by his superiors and Errol has been forced into early retirement and only has less than a month left.
In comes his replacement Allison Lowry (Danes) whom Errol has to show the ropes. He takes Allison along to welcome a new registrant and displays to her the way he operates with his flock. Then he introduces Allison to a favourite of his registrants whom he regularly harasses with frequent visits. Then he shows Allison the other side of the fence by visiting the parents of a missing girl whom Errol has promised to locate. Soon after a young girl, Harriet Wells (Romero), goes missing and Errol is convinced that someone on his registry is responsible and the drags Allison into the investigation with him.
As a suspense piece “The Flock” is fairly solid with a missing persons angle that Errol and Allison track and the hunt is well resolved script wise and, due to the film’s subject matter, also displays a fair amount of unsettling imagery and sleazy scenes that do pack a punch. The mystery itself isn’t all that hard to guess but it plays well and makes for an exciting climax. The real attraction here though is the character of Errol and the way his job has affected him. The point is made that when Errol started work in the Department of Public Safety 18 years before he was a well liked guy who fell in well with the rest. But a certain case which resulted in the death of a missing person changed him and he made a vow to himself to always do his best. He takes his job much more seriously than anyone else and functions more like a police officer as he tirelessly keeps track of all news that might be related to his flock of registrants and passes information over to the authorities. He has also grown to hate those he monitors and exacts his own form of punishment to quell the rage within him. He’s a man with no future happiness in sight and since he’s been put out to pasture by his employers, he reaches manic heights trying to locate Harriet and find some form of closure for his existence.
Gere is absolutely terrific as Errol and the veteran actor completely inhabits his character’s damaged psyche and outward appearance. This shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise as Gere has throughout the years played some very demanding dramatic roles and pulled them off well. While viewers won’t necessarily like Errol they will no doubt understand why he’s the way he is and root for him to find some kind of solace. “The Flock” also delves into the uncomfortable subject matter of sexual offenders and spotlights how widespread they are and how big this problem is. It also showcases how difficult it is to maintain any form of order and surveillance with the offenders and how the case workers have to maintain a certain level of indifference and adapt to a formal line of performing if they are to retain their sanity. Errol has surrounded himself in and absorbed the dark abyss of a very sick side of the world and he can’t distance himself anymore. “The Flock” gets that point across nicely.
Danes gives more than solid support as Allison and she equips herself well alongside Gere. Wise, Strickland and Sams are fine in their roles but singer Lavigne only appears in a single scene and she hardly has any dialogue.
Chinese director Andrew Lau (“Infernal Affairs” – 2002) made his English language debut with “The Flock” but it depends on which version of the film you watch whether you’ll get his version or the one that was re-edited and, to some extent, re-shot after he completed the film. The film was released in European and Asian territories in 2006 but not in the US until 2007 after some touch up work had been applied. Both versions tell the same story in pretty much the same way but there are some notable differences. In the US version Harriet is kidnapped a bit later, a scene in a bar where Errol tries to have a conversation with a woman is dropped, a visit to a sleazy S&M safehouse is split into two different visits while it’s just one long scene in the other version. There’s also a vicious dog attack that occurs in the Asian & European version that is completely missing in the US one (which actually presents a continuity problem in the US version as Gere sports a very noticeable bandage on his arm afterwards) and other scenes are rearranged and appear in different order. The main change is in the look of the film and it’s editing scheme and also the tone of the film. The Asian & European version (which I’m inclined to believe is Lau’s preferred version) is somewhat bleaker in tone, sports an experimental editing style consisting of time overlaps, voice scrambling and some confusing flashes that one can clearly imagine is “Se7en” (1995) inspired to some extent. The US version is much more conventional in look and style but it does not water down the film’s gruesome subject matter or Errol’s unhinged character to any damaging extent. It does however supply Gere with a few moments of emotions and the ending makes his journey more complete. There are a few head scratching moments, particularly early on, that look very much like spliced in scenes and some trimmed moments lack a bit of closure but overall there’s not that much of a difference. There is however a quality scene where Errol discloses his reasons for choosing Alison as his replacement omitted from the US version and that takes a bit from Danes’s character and performance. And quite why the dog attack was removed I don’t know – a still of the scene is even on the back of the DVD cover.
The Asian & European version is the one I prefer although the US version is very solid as well. The slightly darker tone and experimental editing do create a more preferable oppressing mood that suits the material and has more of an impact. “The Flock” isn’t a pleasant sit-down as such but it’s an effective drama piece with some good thriller moments.