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Vancouver Undercover

Chris Haddock’s Intelligence presents a chilling vision of West Coast crime

By Stephen Cole
November 28, 2005

Vancouver Organized Crime Unit head Mary Spalding (Klea Scott) and detective Teddy Atlas (Matt Frewer), in Intelligence.
Vancouver Organized Crime Unit head Mary Spalding (Klea Scott) and detective Teddy Atlas (Matt Frewer), in Intelligence.

When will the folks at Tourism B.C., the bureau that stands by the slogan, “Super, Natural British Columbia,” buy a one-way ticket out of town for Chris Haddock?

Haddock may be B.C.’s greatest filmmaker but he’s not doing much for the province’s image. Before Haddock, creator of the splendidly spiky crime thriller Intelligence, appeared on the B.C. television scene, Canadian TV series portrayed Vancouver and the West Coast as a postcard Eden populated by robust adventurers in open-necked shirts. Most famously there was The Beachcombers (1972-90), with Bruno Gerussi playing Zorba the beachcomber, Nick Adonidas. Then came Ritter’s Cove and the not-so-dangerous Danger Bay.

What all these shows had in common was a glossy travel brochure look — lots of sun-streaked mountains and glittering coves. Indeed, the CBC was remarkably successful in marketing the shows overseas. Danger Bay sold to 44 countries, including Vietnam and Costa Rica. The series was great for tourism — unlike Haddock’s critically acclaimed Da Vinci’s Inquest, now Da Vinci’s City Hall, series that dared to darken the West Coast with long, troubling shadows.

His honour, the mayor: Nicholas Campbell as Vancouver's Dominic Da Vinci.
His honour, the mayor: Nicholas Campbell as Vancouver's Dominic Da Vinci.
This year marks the eighth season that the producer, who began his career walking the beat on MacGyver and Night Heat, has been doing master detective work breathing life into Dominic Da Vinci, formerly coroner for but now the fictional mayor of Vancouver. A month underway, Da Vinci’s City Hall is prime Da Vinci, with Nicholas Campbell’s character duelling with his archest enemy, police chief Bill Jacobs over control of a metropolis that now seems, more than ever, Terminal City. Among the recently uncovered dead: two aboriginal boys buried in shallow graves in a city park — abandoned there, evidence suggests, by a popular Vancouver media celebrity.

On Nov. 28, Da Vinci fans were rewarded with a stand-alone, CBC TV-movie written by Haddock that features a handful of his Vancouver repertory company. For TV viewers with commitment issues who can’t remain faithful to four-month story arcs, Intelligence represents an ideal opportunity to discover what Da Vinci’s “best Canadian drama ever!” buzz is all about. For though by definition the two-hour drama lacks the cumulative power of Haddock’s series work, the TV-movie exhibits all the power and skill that makes the writer-director this country’s premier small-screen storyteller.

Intelligence stars longtime Da Vinci regular, Ian Tracey as Jimmy Reardon, a fussily overcautious dad who is devoted to raising his daughter right and making sure that the family business is run properly — a tricky proposition when you consider that Reardon industries include cocaine and heroin distribution, a chain of 15 marijuana grow-ops, international smuggling, a thriving strip club and murder.

Jimmy’s rival is Mary Spalding, a highly ambitious and secretive boss loathed by all subordinates and rightly feared by her husband, who she has tailed by private detectives. Mary (Klea Scott) is head of the OCU, the Vancouver Organized Crime Unit. But if she plays the cards up her sleeve right and recruits Jimmy Reardon as a superstar B.C. crime informant, she’ll hit it big. In order to keep up with the Americans in the post 9/11 information race, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, CSIS, is looking to establish a West Coast division. If Mary can turn Reardon, the job is hers.

Haddock’s work usually comes with a potent theme. When he was coroner, Dominic Da Vinci was always sniffing out the murder of city government as much as individual killings — a quest that made his run for mayor of Vancouver inevitable. In Intelligence, Haddock posits that drugs are the crucial modern industry and that information, the buying and selling of “intel” on everything from heroin trafficking to international terrorism, is the most addictive and profitable drug of all.

Jimmy Reardon (Ian Tracey) cuts to the quick, in Intelligence.
Jimmy Reardon (Ian Tracey) cuts to the quick, in Intelligence.
Haddock gets this message across with a carefully layered plot that is rendered with acrobatic finesse. Every character here is spying and double-dealing. Mary’s second-in-command has a bug in Reardon’s strip club. A foreign operative is also tailing Jimmy. And Reardon himself gives his employees lie-detector tests. In one seemingly incidental scene, we learn that a police informant is marrying the man she’s snitching on. But there are no small scenes in Chris Haddock’s meticulously crafted film world. The casually introduced story only underlines the writer’s overwhelming theme: in true crime as in true love, everyone is in bed together.

Intelligence also benefits from an expertly sequenced soundtrack that at times captures the cat-like grace of Miles Davis’s mid-’80s aural landscapes. The film also boasts a number of well-realized performances. Ian Tracey easily Steve McQueens his way through the role of Jimmy Reardon, while Klea Scott, an Ottawa actress who has appeared in Collateral and Minority Report, is icily effective yet always evidently human as Inspector Spalding.

Still, the character that viewers will walk away from Intelligence talking about is Matt Frewer, once upon a time, Max Headroom. All masters of crime drama enjoy imagining villains. John Houston (The Maltese Falcon) certainly did. Ditto, David Chase (The Rockford Files, The Sopranos). The same is true of Chris Haddock. And his most inspired creation here is detective Teddy Atlas (Frewer), a squinting, clench-jawed loony who stops just short of the demented Clint Eastwood parody that Jim Carrey occasionally offers up.

Of course, the most intriguing character in Haddock’s work is his native city. With Intelligence the filmmaker has produced another chilling vision of Vancouver. There is little sunshine here and no work for beachcombers. We don’t even see a crack of daylight until after the second commercial break. And even when the sun is out, Chris Haddock’s city is a maze of dark streets wet with the sweat of fear and greed.

Stephen Cole writes about television for CBC.ca.

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