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.
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.
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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