Having seen the totality of Edward Drake’s Detective Knight trilogy, I can confidently say Detective Knight: Independence is the best of the three. The first, Rogue, is a frustratingly over-convoluted caper with too many characters; the second, Redemption, features a great villain but such a medically hindered performance by Bruce Willis that it made me feel sad to watch. Originally written as the series’ first installment, Independence manages to combine the best parts of the previous entries with a fast-paced, creatively low-budget crime story that, although it still must work around Willis at times, gives the iconic actor a few decent beats for what is his swan-song performance before retirement.
After the events of Redemption, Knight (Willis) is back in Los Angeles working as a detective alongside his partner, Fitzgerald (Lochlyn Munro), fully healed and back in action. Knight is frustrated when he’s told to work the Independence Day weekend, which includes his favorite holiday of the year. Making matters worse, Dezi (Jack Kilmer), a young man frustrated with his lot in life, starts impersonating a police officer to rob banks. Dezi is inspired by the idyllic fiction of the hero cop who delivers justice even when the law doesn’t allow it.
“They need someone to take out the trash without worrying about the red tape,” spouts the right-wing YouTuber Dezi loves. “I’m not talking about a vigilante. I’m talking about an angel of justice.”
Unfortunately for Knight, not only is Dezi a madman with a gun and a badge, he’s also friends with the old man’s daughter, Ally (Willow Shields), who previously served as an EMT along with Los Angeles’s newest star criminal. That makes it personal when Dezi sets out to make his big score.
Like the first two Knight films, Independence doesn’t really star Willis as anything but a supporting player. Dezi is the main character, and his descent is the film’s primary focus. Kilmer is good in the role, bringing out a radicalized anger that feels genuine even as his decisions make the character seem increasingly cartoonish. On the cop side, Munro’s return as Fitzgerald is a welcome one. Munro has always seemed to understand the assignment in these films and plays his good-cop archetype with an earnest likability that doesn’t feel too serious. Thankfully this time around, Willis gets a few scenes where his stoic character has room to breathe, and it’s nice to see glimpses of the performer who defined the human side of action cinema just one more time.
I don’t want to oversell Independence: This is still a film sold on the back of Bruce Willis (in this case, promising his swan song), but fans should realize this is late-period Willis, afflicted with advancing aphasia and no longer the presence he once was. Still, it would be possible for fans to catch Independence without watching the previous two films and still feel somewhat satisfied with Willis’s last performance, given the circumstances of his career leading into retirement.
Cop dramas are a dime a dozen, and public shootouts are the go-to action set piece even on basic Network television. Independence ups the ante with an AmbuLAnce-style chase closer, with Knight and Fitzgerald pursuing the fleeing Dezi. This isn’t big-budget stuff, but it’s well-shot and exciting enough in its own right. Even if it isn’t actually Bruce Willis, and the stunt double clearly visible, isn’t it nice to engage with the fantasy of him climbing from a sedan onto the hood of an armored car one last time?
As far as the Detective Knight series goes, it’s best to stick solely with Independence. If you like it, you may also enjoy the grislier, often funnier Redemption. If you click into Drake’s low-budget crime wavelength altogether, maybe check out his first collaboration with Willis, Gasoline Alley.