Guy Pearce is charismatic but this cop actioner disappoints in its banality

David G. Hughes on York Alec Shackleton’s ‘Disturbing the Peace’ (2020)

Guy Pearce is a handsome man. This fact alone makes up most of what is a highly credible star turn from the middle-aged Aussie thespian. Certainly the filmmakers behind Disturbing the Peace get its main man’s look right, and they know how to shoot and market him. His minimalist, wide-chested performance here recalls the “B” work of Clint Walker or Randolph Scott and the comparison sits easier when you realise that this is a modern-day neo-western film quite content to sit within the confines of its genre

The wrangled lawman who hangs up his guns only to be forced to take them up again reluctantly, in extremis, is a classic trope of the American narrative tradition. In this case, it’s the time to shine for former Texas Ranger turned small-town marshal Jim Dillon (Pearce), who sorrowfully poisons himself after hours in the dive bars of Horse Cave following the accidental shooting of his partner in a hostage situation. But with any film that starts with the hero committing a sin, the possibility of redemption will arise.

This occurs when some rabble-rousing anti-social bikers led by Diablo (Devon Sawa) roll into town and ole Jim gets suspicious about their motives. More than harassing the local diner and getting into needless fights with the tough gal waitress / part time preacher / protagonist love interest (Kelly Grayson), there’s a grander plan to rob the town bank and intercept an incoming armoured truck. Things get out of hand when our bad guys are a little more indiscriminate dispensing violence than we can tolerate, and Dillon is forced to find a way to take back control of his idyllic country town.

Disturbing the Peace is written by retired FBI agent Chuck Hustmyre, the belle-lettrist behind the laborious Steven Seagal vehicle End of a Gun (2016). You don’t have to know that Hustmyre regularly appears on Fox News to see his conservative credentials; his new script is about the unspoilt, Edenic pastures of the Republic suddenly invaded by indiscriminate, trouble-making demagogues. There’s something pleasingly anachronistic about his vision of a US terrorised by motorbike gangs, but this genre fare directed by York Alec Shackleton is too comfortable in its boundaries — too conservative, you can say.

A convention exists because it has vitality and heart when employed and understood correctly, but Disturbing the Peace is the sort of unthinking film that uses a trope because it can’t imagine anything else. There’s saving grace in the crisp photography, shot in daylight with no dramatic pretension that we see in so many low-budget films that drop shadows like they’re Caravaggio. The use of dutch titles and extreme low angles are a somewhat self-conscious attempt to make the action pop, but for the most part it’s polishing a turd. The action choreography on display is flat, tepid and cheap, and the sound design rudimentary. Even when Guy Pearce mounts a horse in the film’s pièce de résistance, shotgun in hand chasing down a motorbike in a display of old vs new, you know it’s too late for salvaging. You also remember that Keanu Reeves did it better in John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum (2019).

There’s an art to the punchy, marketable title. The aforementioned Steven Seagal has made a career on the back of three-word film titles such as Out for Justice, Hunt to Kill, Driven to Kill, Out for a Kill, and so on. They don’t particularly mean anything other than a promise of mildly entertaining violence, but they wear their superficialities on their sleeve. Disturbing the Peace is a good movie title for a film about a backwater marshal who must restore said peace against said disturbance, but it fails to deliver on anything more than its premise and the rugged veneer of its leading man.

Disturbing the Peace is available on home video and digital platforms now.

David G. Hughes

By David G. Hughes

David G. Hughes is the Northern-born, London-based Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Electric Ghost Magazine. He graduated in Film Studies (BA) from King's College London and Film Aesthetics (Mst) from The University of Oxford. He has written for Film International, Little White Lies, and more.