'Impulse' (1990)

by Michael Barrett

11 January 2013

 
cover art

Impulse

Director: Sondra Locke
Cast: Theresa Russell, Jeff Fahey

US DVD: 29 Nov 2012

On the one hand, this looks like a perfectly ordinary ‘80s Los Angeles cop movie, although some of director Sondra Locke’s set-ups with photographer Dean Cundey (emphasizing grunge and neon) have an unobtrusive, economic sense of motion that pulls us through nervous streets and corridors. The crime story has been seen a thousand times: protect the mob witness, find the witness, set up a drug buy that goes wrong, use a decoy to lure the killer, etc. The professionally inappropriate romance between the beautiful undercover vice cop (Theresa Russell of the breathy voice) and the studly district attorney (Jeff Fahey) is also par for the course.

What’s unusual is how almost unimportant all that is, how it’s rendered secondary to Russell’s character study as Carla, whose job of playing prostitutes in order to arrest guys, to manipulate them while secretly calling the shots, is playing hell with her mental health. So is her exposure to violence and what we now call PTSD, because she’s being ordered to have sessions with a shrink (Lynne Thigpen) in order to evaluate her stability after she shot someone in an incident we didn’t see. Instead we see another setpiece where she blows away a couple of guys on the same night that she winds down with her crucial, self-destructive “impulse”—a very interesting plot twist that’s circumstantially unbelievable but psychologically credible, an assertion of power and temptation that goes wrong.

Impulse

Rating:

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