Sex, violence and the shepherd

Andrew Lau’s Hollywood debut looks into the twisted world of sex perverts and murderers for a piece of enjoyable entertainment


Fri, May 30, 2008 - Page 17

With the famous Infernal Affairs (無間道) trilogy remade into Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, it is no surprise when one of the trilogy’s creators — Andrew Lau (劉偉強) — has joined the group of Hong Kong directors who have crossed to Hollywood to make films. Starring Richard Gere and Claire Danes, Lau’s first English-language movie The Flock is a slick-looking thriller premised on the sick world of sexual predators, exchanging serial killers for perverts and federal agents for bureaucrats.

The film opens with a couple of disturbing figures: There are over half a million registered sex offenders in the US, and for every thousand, a single person is assigned to monitor them. Erroll Babbage (played by Gere) is one such registrant administrator of the Department of Public Safety whose job it is to keep an eye on the parole sex offenders charged to him; they are his flock, hence the title of the film.

Due to his abusive behavior against his flock of sexual predators, the grizzled case worker is forced into retirement and has to spend his last 18 days teaching his replacement Allison Lowry (played by Danes) everything he knows.

When Babbage takes Lowry on a hunt for the abducted 17-year-old girl Harriet Wells (played by Kristina Sisco), he becomes convinced that one of his offenders is responsible for the crime. Dismissed by his supervisor, Babbage persuades his protege to join him in their own investigation into a twisted underworld of sexual perversion and violence.

The film has a promising beginning with Babbage taking Lowry on a tour into a world of fetishes and bizarre sexuality. The abusers, pedophiles and sadists are introduced one by one during an odyssey that is turned into a crime thriller as the film hits its stride at the half-hour mark. In terms of both the look and narration, Lau’s work offers no surprises and is all too similar to thriller classics such as Se7en.

The Flock is pleasant to look at with its glossy cinematography, slick editing and grainy look. The soaring bird’s-eye view of the stretches of interstate roads and shots of barren landscape don’t offer much but are an adequate backdrop to a world populated by the alienated characters.

Unfortunately, more often than not, the film lapses into a fancy cinematographic practice. The jittery editing and stylish look go unchecked but add nothing significant to the story itself. Audiences are cued on what to feel through a mood-setting score rather than character and plot.

The Flock is undoubtedly Gere’s movie as the veteran actor turns in a convincing performance as a burdened, conflicted hero who is deeply disgusted by the people he monitors while trying not to become like those he loathes. Danes, however, lacks credibility as Lowry, as the audience is never given enough information to understand why this young woman would want to involve herself in such soul destroying work.

The verdict: The Flock is a finely acted and directed piece that offers 100 minutes of decent entertainment, despite its formulaic plot.