The Expert (1995, USA)

The Expert - Michael Shaner as Martin Kagan, holding Assistant Warden Dr Alice Barnes (Alex Datcher) hostage

OK. So this bloke, John Lomax (Jeff Speakman), is not happy. Outraged, in fact, and seeking revenge and justice, in that order. He breaks into the Westgate Penitentiary in Tennessee*, to kill Martin Kagan (Michael Shaner), the psychopathic murderer of his sister, Jenny. Kagan has maintained that it was one of his multiple personalities who killed her, not him, and inexplicably he is supported in this by Westgate’s new Assistant Warden, psychologist Dr Alice Barnes (Alex Datcher), who has recently petitioned the Governor to move the resentenced Kagan off Death Row and into a new prototype rehab program for the criminally insane, The Saddle Horse, where he will talk to schoolchildren about stuff. But it just so happens that Lomax’s break-in coincides with a small emergency in the prison, from which nearly all the prisoners have been transferred to a newer prison, and in which Kagan has taken Dr Barnes hostage, shot and killed Warden Munsey (James Brolin) with his own gun, killed several other guards, and has freed all but one of the other condemned men from their cells.

Lomax is no ordinary incensed brother of a murder victim. He trains the police in special operations, and is a bit of a dab hand at armed and unarmed combat. One of the police who employs him is Dan Mason (Wolfgang Bodison), who had a romantic interest in Jenny. Mason figures out what Lomax is planning to do and tries to dissuade him, but Lomax handcuffs him to a pipe to prevent him from intervening.

You might think that the police would be not so thrilled about a citizen breaking into a prison to kill a man, even if the target is his sister’s killer. You might think that they would not be thrilled about him detaining a police officer and preventing him from doing his duty. And you might even wonder how pleased they would be about him dispatching several Death Row inmates, and then causing the grisly death of his intended target, Kagan. You might think that they might not be thrilled about him unlawfully breaching any prison’s security, whatever the reason.

But no, after it’s all over Lomax is escorted out of the prison by the grateful Dr Barnes, and handed over to officer Mason… who doesn’t arrest him. “Oh my God, you’re hurt,” fusses Lomax’s girlfriend, TV presenter Liz Pierce (Elizabeth Gracen)… not, “What on earth have you done?!” “Just get him to a hospital,” says Mason. “Now it’s over,” Lomax says proudly to his girlfriend. “You OK? Well, nothing like a little bit of excitement to bring in the New Year,” says Mason, calmly. “Was it really worth it?” (in the only suggestion that there just might be other repercussions still to come, but what could also have been a question as to whether his sore arm and the cut on his face made it all worthwhile. Or shorthand for, “Great job. But was it worth the effort of breaking into a maximum-security prison?”). Lomax doesn’t answer. “Let’s get you patched up,” says Mason, putting him uncuffed in the front seat of his police sedan, with Pierce in the back. This doesn’t sound like standard procedure, but at least we know who the good guys are and that a form of justice has been served, so let’s not get too bogged down in questions about procedure and ethics and what’s right and wrong.

Brolin, it must be said, does a nice job in playing an over-the-top, pro-death-penalty Warden, and Shaner does a very excellent psychopath. The brooding Lomax (or maybe Speakman, as this is, after all, a Speakman vehicle) is the problem; he is so filled with righteous anger that he threatens to compromise the prosecution by attacking Kagan in an identification line-up, and then he breaks into Westgate (degree of difficulty: high, one would imagine), rather than break into The Saddle Horse (degree of difficulty: somewhat less, presumably) or, even better, wait until Kagan was being let out to speak to schoolchildren. If he were a prisoner, you’d send him to a cognitive skills program. If he were a SWAT instructor, you might question his judgement under pressure.

Sadly, it seems that in the original screenplay the Lomax character was killed soon after entering the prison, leaving all the Death Row inmates armed with the weapons he’d brought in with him, and Warden Munsey’s execution fervour was challenged by a Death Row inmate being proven innocent. Now that would have been more interesting.

The Expert #2 - Michael Shaner as Martin Kagan and James Brolin as Warden Munsey The Expert #3 - Jeff Speakman as John Lomax

* another credit for the Tennessee State Penitentiary

Posted on September 26th, 2016 at 6:00 pm. Updated on September 26th, 2016 at 6:00 pm.

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