This review is of the TV-14 edited version of the film. All thoughts below should be addressed as such as a review of the uncut version would be more negative
Dirty Harry is certainly a classic in the world of thriller films. It’s a title you’ve definitely heard of and it’s gotten quite a few movies. After watching the film I can see how it would help make vigilantes really popular in media. This really taps into the appeal of characters like the Punisher who are able to take things a step past the law when the villains exploit loopholes. The film gets quite serious and isn’t afraid to push Harry to his limits. It’s got just enough restraint to keep from getting too dicey and ends up being a solid movie.
The movie starts off with a mysterious murderer named Scorpio shooting someone on the roof. He then begins sending letters to the police with warnings that he will continue to murder more people until they heed his demands. At first they don’t intend to listen to him but as the bodies start to pile up they consider just paying him the money. Harry is absolutely against this because he feels that once you give the villain an inch then he’ll take a mile. The demands won’t stop and he figures the hostage that Scorpio kidnapped is likely already dead anyway. He’s overruled by the boss though who wants Harry to go through with the plan anyway and deliver the money. Can Harry find a way to stop Scorpio while dealing with all the red tape?
Hostage situations are never easy but there is a reason why the U.S. and many other countries have a firm policy that they do not negotiate with terrorists. The reason for this is that it really is never ending. If you pay off one of them then you will end up having to pay them all off and more villains will begin to copy this approach. If you don’t negotiate then yes the initial hostages will perish but less villains will be incentivized to even make this attempt because there is no pay off. They know that they won’t be getting any profits off of this.
The movie certainly agrees with that logic as Scorpio plays them the whole time. It’s also putting Harry at a disadvantage since as the messenger boy he is always one step behind and is basically at Scorpio’s whims with all the running around. Scorpio can take him out at any time while Harry has to keep his guard up. Fortunately Harry is very resourceful and manages to outsmart Scorpio but in almost any other case he’d be dead. So when the cops just want to do this again and again, it really doesn’t seem to be very efficient.
The movie also deals with the classic issue of everyone knowing that a villain is guilty but legally they can’t lock him up due to a loophole. Even in real life I always roll my eyes when there is a case with complete proof but the evidence isn’t admissible in court because it wasn’t submitted in time or something like that. It feels like a common sense issue where the evidence should absolutely be considered when we know that it is genuine. Likewise if you get information through non legal channels then it won’t be counted as well.
So in this case even though we now Scorpio has murdered several people, was caught with weapons in his home and confessed to it, plus fired at an officer of the law, they can’t keep him in prison. Moreover he is allowed to walk free without anyone allowed to follow him. The whole thing seems absolutely batty and that’s why the whole concept of Dirty Harry is that he is tempted to do things off the books because every legal attempt failed. It makes for a very difficult choice of course because once you cross that line there is no coming back from that. It’s tough to go back behind the line once you’re over it because then you’ll notice this scenario happening all the time.
It’s why anti heroes are so popular. I’ll keep this tangent brief so we go back to the main plot but part of why people support characters like the Punisher is because they seal up these loopholes. If you live in the city or neighborhood where a mass murderer was let go, it won’t be of much comfort for you to hear on the news that he had to be let go due to whatever loophole was in place. You figure that you’re in danger so when the Punisher shows up and takes the guy out, a part of you is relieved. Light Yagami from Death Note is a classic example of this. He apparently ended over 90% of crime in just the span of a few years due to the fear from criminals that they would be next. He’s certainly no hero but if you lived in that world you now had a much greater chance of not being murdered or robbed. So even if you don’t condone the action you can’t help but appreciate it as you enjoy your life. It’s why there are so many films with characters like this because it’s a really easy sell and Dirty Harry makes a strong case for it.
Scorpio is shown to be as twisted and underhanded as a villain gets. You don’t want to see him get off so easy because you know that he will continue his crimes. He clearly enjoys them and wastes almost no time in getting back on the action. It’s only a shame that he got away with so much before Harry was able to be put on the case. I could have done without some of the descriptions in the movie even if it was to show how deranged the guy was. He’s not a villain that you will forget so easily.
Meanwhile Harry makes for a great main character. It should be noted that he does make every attempt to do this by the book at first. He follows orders even when they don’t make a lot of sense and he’s not just going around trying to murder Scorpio. It’s just that every attempt doesn’t work and he sees how crazy the suits are when they say things like how he should have handled a different case in another way even though he saved a girl’s life from a lunatic. There’s a big disconnect with the upper bosses that becomes more evident as the film goes by.
That said, I don’t blame his partner Chico for throwing in the sack and retiring. At the end of the day this is a super dangerous job and you never know if you’ll be walking away for the last time or not. So after nearly dying you understand why he would be hesitant to go back into the ring. Being a police officer is an extremely difficult position that only some are really able to do. You have to be prepared for death at any moment. I know I wouldn’t be a good fit for that job for example.
Overall, Dirty Harry is a very intense film that keeps you on your toes. It shows how tough it is to stop someone who has really set their mind on doing harm to someone. Even in real life if someone is crazy enough and has no regard for their own life then they will cause some kind of disaster before they are stopped. It happens all the time and if there is any loophole that causes them to get out then another incident will occur. Vigilantes can’t be allowed to operate in the real world not only because of the slippery slope but because assuming they can have a 100% accurate policy of only going after villains would be idealistic at best. In the movies though it can be satisfying to see the villain get it at the end. The movie ending with Scorpio going free would have been absolutely horrible and it’s no exaggeration to say that the movie would have been a 1 or lower. So you can’t end like that and this movie had a really good ending. It’s a satisfying one after that tough journey.