The Turkish police procedural “Grudge” toys with the idea of really saying something blunt and chilling about Turkish justice, Turkish policing and the powerlessness of The People, and only loses its nerve in the third act. The ending is the final “cop out” of this decently-plotted Around the World with Netflix thriller, titled “Kin” in Turkish.
A star vehicle for veteran Turkish star Yilmaz Erdogan (apparently unrelated to Turkey’s current authoritarian president), it’s about a decorated police chief inspector who is ambushed in a taxi, kills his assailant, and then covers up the death in ways that make us wonder why it wasn’t self defense. The film unravels this mystery with varying degrees of urgency, springing a couple of third act twists that land as genuine surprises.
And it’s not half bad. Similar to Denzel Washington’s “Out of Time,” it lacks the “ticking clock” pulse-pounding suspense of a cop trying to stay one step ahead of an investigation that will implicate him, desperate to solve the case and maybe tidy it up before his subordinates get to the real truth.
Here’s the promise it makes. Chief Inspector Harun (Erdogan) lectures the newest cop on his “team” (Cem Yigit Uzümoglu) about an inept interrogation and lays some hard truth about policing in Istanbul.
“Everybody’s a little guilty until our suspicions are eliminated.” Damn, that’s chilling. And you know that ethos isn’t limited to police work in Asia Minor.
“It’s easy to be good” he tells the rookie (in Turkish, with subtitles, or dubbed). “It’s a lot harder to be just.“
But when the “just” Harun is jumped by a cabbie, we remember the opening scene, a poor man being arrested in a slum section of the city. We remember the tearful children watching this. And we recall the film’s title.
The first great twist is what happens to the body of the cabbie the next day. We see it dangling from a construction crane, within window view of police headquarters. Whatever Harun’s crack team expects to dig up about how it got there and who put it there, he’s in a panic about wiping down the scene of the crime and what the city’s many CCTV cameras might have captured about his part in that night’s killing.
His top lieutenant (Ruzgar Aksoy) is in the dark. But somebody else sees him palming a flash drive, hastily trying to finger a suspect to save his trusted boss (Ahmet Mümtaz Taylan) from the public humiliation this case delivers.
Director Türkan Derya, who works mostly in Turkish TV, does a competent job of leading the viewer through Harun’s scramble — tracking down, threatening and torturing old informants, revisiting — in flashback — earlier cases that seem to tie into this.
Erdogan plays the guy who acts if he has something to hide even as he maintains a professional, even moral, demeanor in the office and on the case. That key witness he shoots? It’s almost an accident.
Hints of a mystery woman (Duygu Sarisin), clues from the past and a growing hit list of cops and others let Harun unravel things just ahead of his team. But will that keep him out of trouble, and should we be rooting for him in the first place?
I liked the performances and the plot more than the script itself, which manages only a few punchy cop-speak exchanges and pushes at least one of its twists into the third act, when it would have served the picture better had it been a driving force of the narrative earlier on.
The foreshadowing is entirely too obvious, of the “Send my driver home, I’ll be driving myself” (Uh-oh!) variety.
And that ending feels like this Erdogan was pulling his punches in fear of messaging that might rile THAT Erdogan and Turkey’s police in general.
But “Grudge” comes damned close to checking off all the boxes, and manages to get just enough right to be worth trying on for size.
Rating: TV-MA, violence, profanity, smoking
Cast: Yilmaz Erdogan, Duygu Sarisin, Ruzgar Aksoy, Cem Yigit Uzümoglu and Ahmet Mümtaz Taylan.
Credits: Directed by Türkan Derya, scripted by Yilmaz Erdogan. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:46