The Best Movie You Never Saw: Code of Silence

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be looking at CODE OF SILENCE!

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THE STORY: A tough Chicago cop (Chuck Norris), trying to protect the daughter (Molly Hagan) of a gangster from a murderous drug lord (Henry Silva) has to go it alone when he refuses to help a veteran officer and his cronies cover up a deadly incident.

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Chuck Norris, Henry Silva, Dennis Farina, Molly Hagan. Directed by Andrew Davis.

code of silence Chuck Norris

THE HISTORY: CODE OF SILENCE began as a DIRTY HARRY sequel at Warner Bros. When Eastwood passed, the script, by Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack made the rounds, eventually winding up at Orion Pictures. At the time, Chuck Norris was coming off of Cannon’s MISSING IN ACTION, which wound up becoming one of the most profitable movies in the studio’s history, grossing something like twenty times its budget at the box office. It was so big that Cannon signed him to a long-term contract, but first, Norris signed on for this one, which got surprisingly solid reviews from most critics and opened at number one at the box office, eventually grossing over $20 million domestically, making it Norris’s second-biggest hit (after MISSING IN ACTION). However, in the years since it’s been mostly overlooked in favor of the bearded one’s sillier films and his show “Walker: Texas Ranger”, making it a gem ripe for rediscovery.

(On action stars) Well, you try to give them a context that works for them. You try to let them be who they are and surround them with really talented fellow actors. You make the story real. And you don’t make them stretch too far. And, of course, play to their strengths: physicality, clarity of purpose, all that stuff. – Andrew DavisThe Hollywood Interview

Chuck Norris Henry Silva code of silence

WHY IT’S GREAT: CODE OF SILENCE is the best Chuck Norris movie ever made. In fact, I’d wager its the only legitimately good film he’s ever made. Now, I must admit, I have some genuine affection for the man. Our politics are staggeringly different, but I’d be lying if I said he wasn’t a major figure in my childhood, and as a karate-crazy kid, I grew up on a steady diet of his movies. I like a lot of his films, especially the really fun (and goofy) ones like A FORCE OF ONE, INVASION U.S.A and, best of all, LONE WOLF MCQUADE. But, I honestly don’t think you can hold them up as legitimately great movies in the way you can the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone. CODE OF SILENCE is the exception.

It’s no coincidence that Andrew Davis not only directed the best Chuck Norris movie, but he also directed the best Steven Seagal movie with UNDER SIEGE (I’m less fond of their ABOVE THE LAW). He knew exactly how to make these kinds of movies back in the eighties/nineties (even his Keanu Reeves vehicle, CHAIN REACTION, is underrated). His masterpiece, of course, is THE FUGITIVE, but CODE OF SILENCE is strikingly good for a Norris movie, thanks mostly to the script and Davis’s direction, but also, and I gotta hand it to him, Norris’s low-key performance.

Chuck Norris code of silence

The premise is great. While the Norris as the lone cop versus a drug lord plot is old hat, what I love is the way he's isolated from the rest of the force by his refusal to go along with the cover-up of an officer-involved shooting. This is a phenomenon that, sadly, has arguably gotten even worse in recent years, and there’s something really heroic about the fact that his character sticks to his guns throughout, refusing to cave to pressure as he knows the cop involved, an over-the-hill, racist drunk (Ralph Foody – who you “dirty animals” may remember from HOME ALONE) is a menace. Nor does the film portray all of his fellow cops as bad guys, with his captain pretty sympathetic, while his wisecracking partner (Dennis Farina– a real-life ex-Chicago cop in his first big role – just a few months before he landed “Crime Story”) has his back throughout. It’s a unique spin on the lone wolf cop genre and had it been made as a Dirty Harry movie, it likely would have been one of the best.

Davis gives the movie a lot of gritty atmosphere and uses Norris better than any director has before or since. He’s not cracking wise or striking action movie poses. He plays his character like a regular guy and he’s a lot more like Steve McQueen here than someone like Schwarzenegger. It’s a shame he went over to Cannon where the material was always inferior, pigeonholing him as a B-lister.

Chuck Norris code of silence

BEST SCENE: CODE OF SILENCE has a lot of great action scenes, most of them low key until the obligatory ending shootout with a police robot called “The Prowler” which feels tacked on from another movie. The two best action beats are a great foot chase on the elevated Chicago subway (“The El”) and this scene, where Norris single-handedly takes on a barful of baddies, with it the only legit martial arts scene in the whole movie. I actually think the way this goes down is key to why the movie is so good as, eventually, Norris is overwhelmed and taken down. Had this been a Cannon film he would have destroyed everyone in the bar while throwing out a couple of cheesy one-liners.

SEE IT: CODE OF SILENCE is streaming for free on Tubi TV in the U.S, on the MGM channel on Amazon Prime in Canada, and can be bought on iTunes, Google Play, etc (pretty cheaply).

PARTING SHOT: Even if you’re reluctant to check out a Chuck Norris movie or remember this as being cheesy, give CODE OF SILENCE a try. It’s a real top shelf action film that oozes athmosphere and has a great cast (including a pre-“Frasier” JJohn Mahoney. And yes, Chuck Norris is legitimately great in it.

Chuck Norris code of silence poster


About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.