The heady darkness of police work combined with life’s heartache ultimately proves no match for the – extended -family togetherness so integral to the celebration of the Season of Goodwill
CRIME-FIGHTING DOESN’T STOP FOR CHRISTMAS
‘Jingle Bell Rock‘ is playing from the very top of Lethal Weapon. A Christmas tree sits on a high rise balcony. A beautiful half-naked already out-of-it young woman gets out of bed, takes some cocaine – and then climbs on to the balcony barrier and dives off, plunging to her death on the roof of a car parked below. Later that same morning, Roger (Danny Glover) is having a bath when his wife and children burst in to wish him Happy Birthday for his 50th: a cake arrives. And in a trailer a naked Mel Gibson has a beer and not much else for breakfast. He is clearly grieving over his wedding photos: he takes his gun and fires at the telly as if to block out the pain of bereavement – and to avoid putting the muzzle to his temple.
The first three scenes of Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon (1987) each depict an individual in a half- or fully naked state which each reveals where they are in life. The three will unite when family man, Segeant Roger Murtagh and his younger unstable Mad Maxalike, Ritt (Mel Gibson, then still a beautiful blue-eyed heartthrob – though his haircut has certainly dated) investigate the – murdered – woman’s death. The pair of cops will find themselves investigating a drug-trafficking ring. Called to the site of the jump, the tree on the balcony looks tawdry in the sad daylight aftermath.
Well-Matched Good-For-Each-Other Odd Cop Couple
Shane Black’s first screenwriting credit – and his first Christmas-themed script too is not afraid to juxtapose the darkness of police work with the traditional upbeat ‘can’t wait’ spirit of the Season. (Even hardened drugdealers wish each other ‘Merry Christmas’.) The officers, both Vietnam vets, encounter death and disaster as routine to their work. Roger’s age is beginning to work against him: ‘I’m too old for this shit’ is his repeated refrain. At one point, Roger moans: ‘God hates me. That’s what it is.’ ‘Hate him back. iIt works for me,’ retorts Ritts. The younger officer is a man at the end of his emotional and spiritual tether, and he is the ‘Lethal weapon’ of the film’s title: ready to blow at any time.
Yet Ritts’ psychological pain (‘Every single day I wake up and think of a reason not to do it. Every single day!’ he tells Roger), is what makes him both a liability and at extreme times, a clear asset. He appears fearless. And half an hour in, when he and his partner are called to a man prepared to end it all after the office party, it is the stricken Martin who goes up to the roof and gets on to the ledge, and wishes the man a ‘Merry Christmas’ as he joins him. The unbalanced police pairing is one that Murtagh, nearing retirement, fears: ’50 years old. What a birthday. Been on the force 20 years. Not a scratch on me, not a scar. Got a wife, kids, home, fishing boat. And I can kiss it all goodbye because my new partner has a death wish. My fucking life is over.’
Love And Family Trump Grief And Hardship
There is a strong contrast between the settled world of Roger, with his wife, Trish (Darlene Love), teen daughter, Rianne (Traci Wolfe) who has a crush on Martin, and the latter’s lonely widower life. Ritts cannot help but notice it when invited to dinner: ‘You got a hell of a nice family, there,’ he tells Roger when he leaves for home. But Ritts too has his own mark of decency and kindness: on the same rain heavy night, he picks up a street walker and pays her $100 to come home and watch The Three Stooges. Later, Scrooge (1951) (credited as a shot from ‘A Christmas Carol’) is on the telly in Roger’s house when a crook turns up and Martin goes for him. As time goes on, the discordant pair become friends and partners: they respect each other, and cover each other in the midst of gunfire.
By the film’s end, Ritts has come to terms with the death of his wife, Victoria Lynn in a car crash. He visits her grave with flowers and wishes her a Merry Christmas. Later he will turn up at Roger’s door and hand over the golden bullet he had planned to use to kill himself. It is as if he has promised both Victorai Lynn and Roger, his partner that he will not take his life: the suicidal fever is past. And he is invted to join the Murtagh’s for Christmas dinner, complete with his dog, Sam. Beneath this tale of madness and mayhem beats a real warm heart of close-knit, inclusive, familial love.
Christmas, here, is seen at the film’s beginning to be, at surface level a backdrop to the best and worst of humanity and what life can bring. A drunk and suicidal Riggs, alone in his trailer enters the tv space, gun in mouth, as Bugs Bunny on the telly is wishing: ‘Merry Christmas, Deck the Halls, Joyous Yuletide.’ At the police station, an officer is encouraging a group of male officers, using her truncheon as a conductor’s baton: she leads them into ‘Silent Night’ and then ‘Noel’ and it feels like the Christmas carol scene in Brazil (1985). Both Bugs on the box and the cop carolsinging has little relevance or context to the madness and brutality surrounding it. It comes across as a means of keeping back the darkness, even a denial of it – and a not very effective one at that. It is as if the festivities cannot be forced. By Lethal Weapon‘s end, we can see that true celebration comes with genuine love for each other.