September 24, 1979 12:00 PM

Ex-cop Joseph Wambaugh never liked the way Hollywood treated his novels, so he adapted one himself. The result is an emotionally overpowering movie that recounts, step by step, a cop-killing near Los Angeles. John Savage, busy lately in Hair and The Deer Hunter, portrays the slain officer’s guilt-ridden partner. But the film really belongs to James Woods (the Jewish artist in TV’s Holocaust). His portrayal of a psychopathic killer will surely be in contention for an Oscar nomination. The rest of the cast is remarkable, too, especially Franklyn Seales as Woods’ reluctant accomplice; Ted Danson, who is nervously right as the doomed cop, and Beege Barkett, wonderfully sleazy as Woods’ moll. Wambaugh wrote the too talky but brutally tense script and even set up the company that made the film. This time he has no one to thank but himself. (R)

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