It is a really bleak movie about drug addiction and police corruption, yet I find it compelling. The relationship between the cops is intimate and complex, as they form a deep bond and fight through their addictions while trying to get their cases done, as the kingpin is too smart and elusive for them. Leigh's character Kristen starts out as a rookie cop whose only previous drug experience was smoking two joints in college, and she is determined to prove herself worthy of the force (especially in a time when female rookie cops were purposely put in dangerous situations in order to scare them off of the force), and quickly gets into a heroin addiction, getting into way more that she can handle. Patric's character Jim is a more experienced cop who is blunt about liking drugs too much, while thinking he can kick a habit after "a few days of sweaty sheets,' and his addiction becomes much more debilitating, as he falls apart much more than Kristen did.
Patric brought a lot of dark mystery to Jim, as he seemed like someone who was a natural addict and chose being a narcotics officer as a cover for access to drugs, while Leigh delivered a great performance in tracking the journey of Kristen from rookie to addict to survivor.
I also enjoyed the performances of Sam Elliott as a seasoned detective who survived his addictions and is worried about his younger officers; Max Perlich as a frightened young man who is pressured to snitch on his dealer friends for a lighter conviction; and William Sadler as a seedy drug dealer cooking meth in a dirty lab and looking sketchy with homemade tattoos.
Gregg Allman as Gaines has very few lines, but his quiet intensity often makes him intimidating, and he easily looked like his 1970s self in 1991, carrying a rock 'n roll swagger with him. The movie opens with a fantastic one-take panning shot that follows Gaines through his bar as everyone greets him with fear and respect, a la the Goodfellas scene of Henry Hill being greeted by everyone in a Mafia-run club.
Eric Clapton did the original score, and it is so 1970s blues rock that I forget it isn't original music from that era. It sets the tone for the seediness of the drug culture of the Texan town, like its own world in a bubble. But I don't like that "Tears in Heaven" plays in one scene, because even though it is a song about death that plays after a major character's death scene, I found it to be too contemporary, and too much of a reminder of Clapton's son's death in the early 90's, taking me out of the 1975 era.
The film was written by Pete Dexter and directed by Lili Fini Zanuck, and was based on a true story about two 1970s narcotics officers who planted evidence on dealers because they snorted or shot up the original evidence, and were convicted of their police corruption.
The cinematography often has a muted or brownish look to it, and the set designers and costumes paid close detail to the era, likely using a lot of vintage clothes and props. It really looked of the era, and made the story much more believable.
I really like this film, mostly for Leigh's performance, the seedy drug underbelly it depicts, and how the cops aren't any different than the addicts and dealers they are trying to bust. It is a compelling movie, and a personal guilty pleasure of mine despite its dark story.