Rating: The Good – 67.1 Genre: Thriller Duration: 128 mins Director: Roger Spottiswoode Stars: Nick Nolte, Gene Hackman, Ed Harris
Slightly above average war-drama from Roger Spottiswoode and starring Nick Nolte, Gene Hackman, and Joanna Cassidy as war correspondents who rush from one third world country to another in order to get the scoop on the latest skirmish between despot and the poor. Landing in Nicaragua in time to document the final days of the Somozoa regime, the three find themselves caught up in a love triangle, bombings, and the political machinations of spies and government officials alike. Not quite as subjective and daring a film as Missing or as cavalier a film as Salvador, Under Fire falls in between as a safer and more mainstream examination of the South American political climate of the 70’s/80’s. That said, it’s an interesting story with solid performances and some decent action thrown in to boot.
The Conversation is a dark and introspective study of a private surveillance expert, Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), whose private life becomes increasingly infected by those traits his profession requires, namely, paranoia and anonymity. When Caul comes to believe that his latest subjects’ lives could be in danger due to his recordings, past anxieties emerge to ultimately tear down the fragile order he has created in his life. Hackman is superb in the lead role and gives a breadth of reality to the deeply idiosyncratic Caul. Furthermore, he is well supported by John Cazale, Harrison Ford, and Robert Duvall. Coppola’s taut direction is at its best here as he assembles and disassembles reality primarily through his use of sound but also through his use of darkly lit interiors and ambiguous dialogue. And it is this ambiguity that dominates the film’s theme as Caul’s overconfidence in words and voices become a lesson in the subjectivity of life. The influence of Japanese cinema is all over this film, particularly in the dream sequences and that memorable final scene which strongly echoes the extraordinary ending to Okamoto’s The Sword of Doom.
A cleverly scripted submarine thriller which pits Denzel Washington’s erudite by-the-book executive officer against Gene Hackman’s old school authoritarian captain in the midst of a nuclear missile crisis. Tony Scott brings his usual big, bold, and brash style to the action whether it comes in the form of the two command officers verbally tearing into one another or in the form of their supporters amongst the crew physically doing likewise. The set design is pitch perfect and complemented wonderfully by Scott’s trademark moody lighting. Sure, some of the key moments are rammed down out throats in a manner that works contrary to his aims but, for the most part, this is Scott at his most restrained. And with a cast like this, he could afford to be. Hackman is at his snarling best while Washington provides the ideal counterweight: cool, considered, and unflappable. What sets Crimson Tide apart from the glut of similar action thrillers, however, is its perceptively drawn screenplay which works simultaneously and figuratively to reflect the moral ambiguity and outright confusion of a nuclear standoff. From the smirkingly camouflaged conversations regarding the origin of Lipizzan horses to the more overt discussions of the Hiroshima bombing, Michael Schiffer’s adaptation of Richard P. Henrick’s story is strewn with logical land-mines and moral quicksand (word has it Quentin Tarantino was even brought in by his ardent fan Tony Scott to zest it up in places). So much so that by the time the credits roll, you’ll be reprimanding yourself for not giving Scott enough credit to begin with.
Star studded legal thriller with a still fresh faced Tom Cruise as the brash young attorney whose dream job at a Memphis law firm turns into a nightmare when he discovers they’re a front for the Mafia. Throw in a meddling FBI and a largely unseen Chicago mobster and the scene is set for some old school thrills and a nice spot of running for the always eager Cruiser. As usual for a John Grisham adaptation, an array of cracking characters lie at the base to this movie played by no one but the cream. Hal Holbrook, Holly Hunter, Wildord Brimely, David Strathairn, Ed Harris, Gary Busey, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Paul Sorvino are all in top form while Cruise puts in a strong shift as he was, at the time, just emerging from the shadow of his late 80’s “pretty face” status. However, it’s Gene Hackman as Cruise’s incorrigible yet charming mentor who steals the show. The movie comes alive the moment he shows up and he adds much needed droll to the otherwise stiff suited side to the movie. As as you’d expect from the man behind some of the great 70’s thrillers, Sydney Pollack ratchets up the tension and strikes a relatively even balance with the personal drama even if he could do nothing for the Cruise-Tripplehorn mismatch as husband and wife! He does however manage to keep his audience distracted from the story’s sometimes ludicrous plot developments – a useful skill for a Grisham thriller! John Seale’s photography gives Memphis an intriguingly inviting yet obscure quality which actually complements the conspiratorial tone of the movie while not alienating the mainstream audience. Ditto Robert Towne, David Raybe, and David Rayfiel’s screenplay. It’s just a shame that Dave Grusin’s score couldn’t do the same as it bounces buoyantly among the octaves, too often oblivious to the cadences of the script. The whole thing runs about 35 minutes too long but it’s worth hanging in there if only to see Tom use his briefcase to beat seven shades of crap out of Brimely’s slightly ridiculous but eminently enjoyably bag man.
Rating: The Good – 74.5 Genre: Crime, Comedy Duration: 105 mins Director: Barry Sonnenfeld Stars: Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Danny DeVito
The 90′s was easily the decade that gave us cinema’s coolest films and this was easily one of its top 5. The personification of cool himself John Travolta plays a movie loving loan shark Chilli Palmer, who heads out to LA to collect a debt and sees a chance to get involved in the movie business by protecting a down-on-his-luck director (Gene Hackman) from some smalltime gangsters he owes money to. Based on an Elmore Leonard novel this charming and often hilarious film has all the trademark twists and turns you come to expect from a Leonard story. Travolta and Delroy Lindo get most of the cool lines and although Travolta and Danny DeVito will get some chuckles the funniness of the film is primarily down to Hackman and Dennis Farina (as the gangster Chilli works for). Their respective characters are absolutely hysterical and the scene where they finally meet is unquestionably the highlight of the film. The last mention should go to director Sonnenfield who brings as much wit to the proceedings as anyone.
Clint Eastwood’s undisputed directorial and acting masterpiece is one of the great revisionist westerns thanks largely to David Webb Peoples’ (Blade Runner) sublime screenplay. Eastwood stars as a former murderous and feared outlaw, William Munny, who changed his ways due to his wife’s staunch influence. When hard times hit upon him and his children, he reluctantly accepts an offer to track and gun down two men who disfigured a prostitute. The dark journey he undertakes sees him slowly transform back into the man he once was building up to one of the grittiest showdowns in western history as he and the sheriff (Gene Hackman’s nasty Little Bill) eventually lock horns. Unforgiven quite ingeniously plays on a mythological level despite its simultaneous forensic deconstruction of the western mythology. The story is replete with salty outlaws, each one more formidable than the last, and all going head to head in various memorable encounters. There are some real heavy hitters on the acting front with Morgan Freeman and Richard Harris significantly adding to the presence which Eastwood and Hackman provide. Hackman was given one of the best roles of his career and Eastwood was probably never better. The direction is inspired (not something one could always say about Eastwood’s movies) and in those moments when camera and dialogue come together seamlessly (such as the moment when Eastwood finally turns into “William Munny”) there are few western scenes that can compete.
Richard Attenborough’s WWII epic counts as a spiritual sequel to The Longest Day by providing a sprawling account of Montgomery’s overambitious Operation Market Garden. The film moves forward at a beautiful pace taking its time to develop each of the several main characters. It eases between the various divisions and units that are responsible for leading the different elements of the attack and it’s a testament to Attenborough’s direction and William Goldman’s screenplay that it never loses the audience’s attention. The cast of A-listers are too numerous to account for but like any good military campaign they all do their bit. The action scenes are in the main sensational and on a scale rarely seen in even the biggest and most modern of films. In fact, in many ways A Bridge Too Far is a case of art imitating life as the logistics involved in the production of this film must have rivaled those that went into the actual battles themselves. It isn’t all perfect as some of the close-shots during the fighting come off a little rushed and a small few of the battle sequences are a tad uninspired. There are also a couple too many subplots crammed into the 175 minutes and dispensing with the weaker ones (such as James Caan’s attempts to protect his fragile young lieutenant) would have given the film a more streamlined feel. That said, what makes A Bridge Too Far so special are the moments in between the battles that don’t quite add up to subplots but just a series of vignettes that acknowledge the personal dimension to soldiering. And on that criteria, there are few that can rival it.
Rating: The Good – 78.5 Genre: Crime, Drama Duration: 128 mins Director: Alan Parker Stars: Gene Hackman, Willem Dafoe, Frances McDormand
Alan Parker outdoes himself with this powerful and perfectly sculpted thriller about an FBI investigation into the disappearance of three civil rights activists in 1960′s Mississippi. The pacing, editing, writing, and acting are the central forces of this film experience and the steady but tempered build-up of emotion and drama is the result. Willem Dafoe is sensational as the straight-laced and driven (but multi-layered) FBI man charged with leading the investigation. It’s a testament to this perennially underrated actor’s ability that he not only holds his own with the legendary Gene Hackman but goes on to form one of the more subtly powerful onscreen partnerships with the great man. Hackman himself is sublime as the equally complex former southern sheriff who moved to the FBI because “the grits started leaving a bad taste in my mouth”. His character walks the line between professionalism and breathtaking ferocity as deftly as he understands the white southern mentality of that time. The nastier characters are played with similar relish by some more underrated big-hitters such as Michael Rooker and the always fantastic Brad Dourif. Parker doesn’t just content himself with making a top-notch thriller. Instead, he attempts and succeeds wonderfully in conveying a layered understanding and explanation of racism, its roots and its catalysts. Look deeper into each of Mississippi Burning’s scenes and you will be rewarded with this subtle commentary.
The ultimate cop thriller sees hard-boiled detectives Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Cloudy Russo (Roy Scheider) take on a deviously clever French drug dealer (Fernando Rey) as he attempts to smuggle “Grade A, junk of the month” into New York. As gritty as it is savage, this film pulls no punches as it offers us a glimpse into the obsessed mind like few other films have. Friedkin cleverly draws us into this dark world by familiarising us with the lead characters and their idiosyncratic relationships early on. From then on, it’s just the small matter of great dialogue, seminal acting, and startingly insightful direction that keep us glued to the screen. The French Connection seems to capture the essence of real New York like few other movies as William Friedkin chose the type of run down locations we had rarely seen in movies up until that point. The car chase has become the stuff of legend and as much as the end result was due to Jerry Greenberg’s editing and the death-defying stunt driving, it was also down to Hackman and Friedkin’s tight-knit understanding as to what Doyle’s face needed to show during the pursuit. Don Ellis’ minimalist score deserves a mention too as it remains one of the decade’s most effective. Just don’t get caught pickin your feet!
Rating: The Good – 74.7 Genre: Action, Crime Duration: 88 mins Director: Michael Ritchie Stars: Lee Marvin, Gene Hackman, Sissy Spacek
“He’s the expert from Chicago. I heard people talking.” Michael Ritchie’s gritty quasi-satire is as hard nosed as 70′s cinema got and it’s not difficult to see why with Lee Marvin playing the enforcer sent by the Chicago mob to deal with fearless and loathsome cattle rancher Gene Hackman in Kansas City. This is a film which plays by its own rules right from the beginning as we see Hackman’s henchman turning the mob’s previous enforcer into sausage before sending him back up to Chicago. Marvin is steel (as usual) in the main role as Devlin but with the calm intelligence of a man who knows how to get things done. Hackman is just plain disturbing as the sadistic Mary Ann who treats women like cattle (literally) while Sissy Spacek scores well as one such woman who latches on to Marvin for help. Ritchie brings it all together with a thunderous punch so successfully in fact that there are definite shades of Prime Cut in later masterpieces such as Reservoir Dogs. The pace drops at points as Ritchie doesn’t always find the right balance between paradoy and hard edged action but for the most part Prime Cut is vintage stuff.
Rating: The Good – 80.5 Genre: Film-Noir Duration: 100 mins Director: Arthur Penn Stars: Gene Hackman, Jennifer Warren, Susan Clark
Truly excellent thriller starring Gene Hackman as a struggling private detective who after finding out his wife is having an affair, takes on the job of tracking down and bringing home a rich woman’s runaway daughter (a young Melanie Griffith). Arthur Penn’s film tells a very low key yet thoroughly engaging story and he keeps just the right distance between the audience and main characters to subtly reel the former in. The plot is reasonably dramatic but the more interesting drama lies in between the lines and everyone from the director, to the writer Alan Sharp, to the outstanding cast do their bit to ensure it remains murky and ambiguous throughout. Penn’s brave decision to let this one play itself out was very much in keeping with that goal and the result is an unorthodox film-noir with a very unique feel. In many respects, there are two stories being told here and Sharp’s clever screenplay and Penn’s unwavering hand do well to keep them intertwined. The attempt to resolve both stories together may come across as a little rushed but the abrupt acceleration and deceleration of pace really grabs the attention and so Night Moves closes in memorable style.
Rating: The Good – 78.5 Genre: Thriller Duration: 114 mins Director: Roger Donadlson Stars: Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Sean Young
From the opening credits as Maurice Jarre’s tense score accompanies an aerial shot of Washington DC, this film exudes intrigue. Roger Donaldson’s film is a smartly written taut political thriller steeped in that classy 80′s style where character and soft lighting were the order of the day. It stars Kevin Costner as a naval officer assigned to the Pentagon who together with Sean Young (his girlfriend) and Gene Hackman (his boss and Secretary for Defence) becomes involved in a dangerous love triangle that ends up in murder, a cover-up, and a manhunt through the Pentagon.
Costner is at the height of his powers and he adds a sharp intensity to the film through a mixture of his good old boy charm and his nuanced depiction of an ambitious career officer. Young gives a memorable performance as the feisty love interest while Hackman just about steals every scene he features in. Most memorable of all, however, is Will Patton as Hackman’s uncomfortably infatuated if not outright obsessed right-hand man. It’s his relationship with both Costner and Hackman’s characters that ties the plot together and given those relationships are both unique and interesting but in very different ways, it adds an additional air of intrigue to the film.
The audience may stumble across some minor plot-holes from time to time but the fast pace to the plot and great performances paint over any such shortcomings. Though No Way Out technically counts as a remake of the 1948 film-noir The Big Clock (which was more closely based on Kenneth Fearing’s novel), the story is totally re-written in line with the paranoia of the Cold War with the only similarities being the essence of that film’s plot. In fact, in the current climate of mindless and greedily motivated remakes, reboots, and sequels, No Way Out stands as a reminder of what remakes were all about back when they happened once in a blue moon and were artistically motivated reinterpretations.