Internal Affairs is a thriller with a lot of nerve. It takes risks, presenting the audience with a grim and violent story of police corruption. It doesn't care if you like it or hate it, just that it does its job of getting under your skin. The main reason the movie is so effective is because of Richard Gere's powerhouse performance. It caught me off guard, since before I saw it I'd always seen him as the hero or love interest, far from the territory he's in here. I'll get more into Gere's performance later, just let me clear up the plot.
Gere is Dennis Peck, respected vice cop, father and husband, determined to do the job. Oh, he's also the dirtiest cop on the force. He plants evidence, shoots suspects, sets up his fellow officers, doing it all without a shed of remorse. The hero of the movie is Raymond Avila (Andy Garcia), newly assigned to the Internal Affairs division of the LAPD and a friend of Peck's partner, Van Stretch (Stephen Baldwin). When Stretch introduces Peck and Avila it's obvious they don't like each other. Not getting along becomes an understatement as Avila starts to uncover Peck's corrupt behavior and looks to put a stop to it. But Peck won't go down without a fight, and he'll do whatever he can to keep Internal Affairs off his back.
As far as police thrillers go, Internal Affairs is one of the meaner kind. Rather than put us into the normal day of a cop it decides to put us into the normal day of bad cop, a really bad cop. This is a guy who would kill a man for stepping on his shoe. He'd probably kill his family too, and laugh while he was doing it. Think I'm exaggerating? Not so much. Peck is the embodiment of all the bad guys in police thrillers and none of the cops in them.
Of all of the actors you could find to play a guy like this, who would have guessed that a likable actor like Richard Gere would ever fit the bill. Does he ever. He gives that kind of against type performance we see a lot from normally good guy actors. We've seen it from Denzel Washington (Training Day), Tom Cruise (Collateral), and Robin Williams (Insomnia) in the past few years. Each of these guys have given performances that have altogether changed how we see them as actors. Gere is no exception here. He seems to be having a blast too, chewing the scenery every chance he gets.
He's surrounded by some good supporting work. Andy Garcia gives Avila a kind of determination you'd expect from a guy who's life has been wrecked by a guy like Peck. As his partner, Laurie Metcalf is likable and isn't as wasted as she could have been.
But when it all comes down to it, this is Gere's show, and he shines in his only truly villainous role to date. He probably had enough of playing the villain by the time he was done with this movie. That would make sense. After playing a guy like Dennis Peck, any actor would need time off from playing the bad guy. I'd like to see Gere play the bad guy again though, and give us another surprising and terrifically evil performance.