What could be an interesting story about a madman and the police in pursuit of him is turned into a soap-opera tragedy of the week punctuated by a few anonymous shots fired from a pistol in close up. We learn an awful lot about Detective Ed Zigo's tribulations, mainly centering about his wife's terminal illness, and very little about the key figure in the story. David Berkowitz was a paranoid schizophrenic who worked for the post office and obeyed orders given to him by a neighborhood dog, which he called "Sam." He led the police and the press a merry chase. The newspapers and TV reporters of the time were going berserk with speculation. He was an ex-policeman because he used the two-handed combat crouch that cops used. (All he had to do to learn that stance was go to a movie.) He was on the lookout for girls with long brown hair parted in the middle because of some buried trauma. (Every young woman in the United States of America had long brown hair parted in the middle.) He was an artist or an architect because of the fussily neat printing he used in his letters to journalists. (He was nothing of the sort, just a guy with neat printing.) He had some kind of cowboy complex because he used a .44 caliber weapon. (It was just convenient, he had other weapons too.)
He turned out to be, not David Berkowitz, but rather "David Berkowitz," an adopted child with an Italian background. (All my Jewish friends breathed a sigh of relief.) Whatever his background he was nutty as a fruitcake. A hole in his apartment wall had a cartoon balloon over it, saying, "Hi. My name is Mr. Williams and I live in this hole." The fact that a guy so flagrantly nuts could work in an ordinary post office without detection is almost as scary as the fact that he could stalk the streets at night.
The story was filled with ironies. The ol' .44 he toted was built by Charter Arms. It's a large-caliber gun. Yet, despite firing at very close range, he only managed to kill six of his 13 victims with it. Was it possible that Charter Arms' .44 pistol wasn't really as lethal as everyone had thought? A spokesman for the firm was more or less forced, in effect, to defend the product and apologize for the fact that most of the victims survived.
None of this is in the film. Not that the acting is poor. Martin Sheen is quite good, as usual, especially hustling across the street to inform his partners that he has just discovered the shooter's identity after searching his car, practically dancing with excitement. But the people making this film didn't seem to know what they were aiming for. The first several shootings take place without elaboration or explanation before we meet any of the characters. The procedures involved in tracking Son of Sam down are skipped over, as if they were interruptions of the tragic drama of Zigo's life, the main subject of the movie. James Edward Olmos, a first-rate actor, is given a surfeit of screen time at the expense of the detective story. There are extended family scenes that deserve no more than footnotes. All of this detracts from the impact and suspense of a sensational story, even from our interest in it.
Where did the director and the writers think they were going with this? Into Plan A, The disease of the week protocol? If you want to learn about the case, read one of the several books available about it, including a novelized version by Jimmy Breslin. Don't waste time on this misguided effort.
3 out of 8 found this helpful.
Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.