Two police officers are sent to investigate a local drug-related disturbance in the area one night. When they get to the location they don’t find any drug dealers, just a local homeless man who seems to peddle in street card games. One of the officers engages him in a game, but the other walks away with a sneaking suspicion that something isn’t quite right. Before they leave the officers realize what’s wrong, and their search for a drug dealer ends up turning into something far more disturbing.
Unlawful Duties is a short film from 2021 directed by Sunil Kulkarni. At only 9-minute long the short doesn’t have a lot of time to get things done, and in fact the film has even less than that, as a good minute or so of run time is actually taken up by the opening and closing credit sequences. But while it does seem to be making a statement, the actions in the film and the closing text statement at the end pretty much muddle whatever point it’s trying to make.
The film ends with a few sentences about some illuminating facts regarding missing children, but the short itself only focuses on anything to do with kids in the last few seconds. Now, part of that has to do with the – quote unquote – twist at the film’s end, but the problem is everything leading up to that felt like the film was going in a completely different direction. The movie stars two very unlikable police officers who don’t seem to like to treat each other with respect, let alone the people they come in contact with. The white officer is basically the poster child for bad cops. He’s rude, he’s belligerent, he’s insulting, and his go-to method of doing things seems to be using threats and intimidation. Then he makes matters worse for himself by shirking off his duties to make a bet with the homeless guy he just finished throwing insults at. In short, he’s an asshole. Unfortunately his partner doesn’t seem much better. Sure, that guy at least attempts to be polite to the homeless man they come in contact with, at least up until the end, but he also doesn’t do a damn thing to try to keep his partner in check either. So you’ve got two crappy cops who seem to be equal halves of a rotten whole: One, the outwardly vocal a-hole, and the other being the silently accepting a-hole who’s just as bad, if not worse, than his partner. Then the twist comes and the film ends and you realize they are just as bad as one another and equally horrible cops, so you think you’ve just watched a short with something to say about the state of the rather corrupt police system, and then -BAM!- the film throws some random missing children statistics at you, suggesting that wasn’t the point of the film at all. It’s like the film decided to pull an extra switcheroo at the last possible second, making it feel like the short isn’t being completely honest with itself.
While the story ends up sadly being rather non-engaging, at least on a visual level the film is quite strong. The cinematography here is excellent. Scenes are filled with well-framed shots and there are some absolutely lovely and impressively colorful cityscapes. As the film was shot at night, most of the movie is naturally quite dark, but there shouldn’t be any issues being able to tell what’s going on in each scene.
That said, there are a couple of technical…blips, if you will. The sound quality in the film can be a bit hit or miss, mostly thanks to all the whispering, but also in part because of a rather static-filled radio. I could thankfully make out what the characters were saying, or at least I could after I turned the volume up. But for the life of me I couldn’t tell what their dispatcher was saying no matter how many times I listened to it. Like, I get it movie, radio’s can have bad static, but I should still be able to hear what’s being said, especially if the characters in the film have no trouble understanding it.
All in all, Unlawful Duties ends up being a bit hit or miss. Many of the visuals are absolutely lovely, but other elements of the film end up being rather so-so. The story is decent… until the end. The sound is perfectly fine…until it’s not. And the acting is decidedly run of the mill. So in the end, it’s a mixed bag. I think the film would have actually been stronger if they hadn’t added that blip at the end that almost feels like an afterthought, but that wouldn’t have dealt with all the other minor inconsistencies the short has either. At less than 9-minutes the movie isn’t going to waste your time, but it isn’t going to blow you away either. At best it’s a nice, quick little distraction.
Unlawful Duties is available on Thinkshorts.com