In the early 2000s, Sylvester Stallone was struggling to rebuild himself from some of his cheesy action movies of the 90s, and these efforts didn’t all meet with much success. Get Carter is a remake of a 1971 film of the same name starring Michael Caine in the title role, and this remake was received with negative criticism and a poor box office take. However, I saw this film on opening weekend, and I have very much liked it ever since. Having still not seen the original movie, I imagine I have the ability to view it much more objectively. Still, almost any movie promising Sylvester Stallone in a fist fight with Mickey Rourke and a hilarious John C. McGinley is pretty cool to begin with, but I honestly feel the film has a lot of worthwhile merit in many regards.
His name is Jack Carter, and you don’t want to know him. When it’s your time to settle your debts, you pay what you owe, or Carter will make you pay. While working for the mob in Las Vegas, Carter (Sylvester Stallone) learns that his brother has died, and returns home to Seattle in order to learns the how’s and why’s. His brother left behind a wife, Gloria (Miranda Richardson), and a teenage daughter, Doreen (Rachel Leigh Cook), which Jack feels he must now take care of since he was not around when it mattered most. Though, when digging into the death of his brother, Jack comes to suspect that is was no accident, and that someone has to pay up.
Now, what even some of the middle of the road reviews gave credit to was that Stallone is solid as Jack Carter, and I enthusiastically agree. I really like that Jack is a guy who carries a weight of regret with him to where he has this post-facto sense of responsibility. He might be a guy who beats people up for a crime syndicate, but there’s a certain moral compass to Jack which Stallone grasps onto perfectly. There’s a lot of subtlety to his performance showing the superb reversal on the over-the-top action hero roles of Judge Dredd or Demolition Man. He brings with him a low key presence of intimidation, but still finds those moments of clever signature Stallone charm and wit. Jack Carter has a warm heart and compassion for those he cares about, and this comes so very naturally to Stallone. There’s such a great depth of dimension to what he does here. Sly gives us a complex character who intensifies the emotional drive of the film. It’s also amazing seeing how bulked up Stallone got for this movie. He’s larger than ever, and it really works for Jack’s tough, bad ass presence. Yet, it is that softer side of Jack Carter that really impresses as he shows a lot of pain after a certain point really hitting you deep in the heart, and that translates into a venomous vengeful determination in the film’s third act. It’s an awesome, compelling performance by Sylvester Stallone that amazingly reminds you that he can be a stunning, complex actor. I think it’s one of his best performances since First Blood.
A lot of the depth of heart and substance is carried on through Miranda Richardson and Rachel Leigh Cook. Richardson is great as Gloria who is in this constant uncertainty about Jack. At times she can confide in him about her problems with Doreen, but at other times, can condemn Jack for bringing further trouble upon them and being absent from their lives until Richie died. Richardson has pitch perfect chemistry with Stallone standing strong on her own while showing the emotional turmoil inside. Meanwhile, Cook very easily endears herself to Jack and an audience with some sad sweetness and sympathetic charm. As certain things are revealed, and far more tragic layers are peeled back from Doreen, Cook is really able to demonstrate the soul of her heartbreaking talent. It really ends up being the pulsating emotional core of this film.
I really like the scenes between Stallone and Mickey Rourke. These are two actors who genuinely seem like they enjoyed working off each other. They’ve got the right rhythm and chemistry that these two characters should have being old acquaintances and all. Rourke has the right charisma and air of sleaze as Cyrus Paice which makes him very entertaining to watch, but also, a real piece of scum that you want to see get busted up by the end. Rourke and Stallone are two buffed up bulls ready to lock horns regularly, and when they do finally trade punches, it’s a straight up bad ass brawl.
Anyone who loves John C. McGinley’s comedy work would also love him here. He plays Con McCarty, an associate of Jack’s in the Las Vegas syndicate, and I swear he ad-libbed the majority of his dialogue. It is just so brilliantly quick witted, off the cuff, and hilarious that he’s an utter, endless joy. It’s a performance like this which shows that this is a film that is interested in balancing the heavyweight drama with sharp beats of levity. And Alan Cumming is quite good as the geeky wet rag dot-com millionaire of Jeremy Kinnear who has gotten in way too damn deep with seedy individuals. He is a pleasure to watch in this role as Stallone looms over him with his brute intimidation. Of course, Michael Caine does a fine job in a somewhat small role as Richie’s now former employer, and Caine and Stallone have some solid scenes together. Apparently, even Caine endorsed Stallone as a respectable successor to his original role, and including him in this cast was a really nice touch.
I really adore the look of this film from director of photography Mauro Fiore. It’s soaked in this somber tone of overcast gloom of blues and greens that really absorb you into the tone of the movie. Director Stephen Kay really pushed hard to have this filmed in Seattle, and the beauty of the rain soaked city makes the film feel a little more unique. There’s also some unconventional style to Get Carter that might not work for many films, but all of the artistic flourishes really meld together beautifully, in my opinion. The strategic slow motion beats add a sense of grace to the photography, and Fiore moves the camera extremely competently with plenty of steadicam. I like that when Jack’s whole world turns upside down so does the camera accentuating a particularly unique filmmaking style that I really like here. There is some stylish editing with a few jumpy cuts, flash frames, and speed changes. I could see how some would find that irritating, but I really got absorbed into the mindset of this movie. Stephen Kay uses these stylistic choices to slip you into a character’s perception such as Jack’s world fracturing. Get Carter was edited by Academy Award winner Jerry Greenberg who also edited The French Connection, Apocalypse Now, Kramer vs. Kramer, and Scarface. Here, he superbly executes Stephen Kay’s vision right from the opening credits sequence onward.
There is a great, moody collection of music here in addition to Tyler Bates’ unique and stylish score. The original theme for the 1971 film by Roy Budd is utilized and remixed for this remake, and it is a beautiful composition that just tingles my senses. There are some techno tracks infusing some dance club style vibes into the movie. I particularly love the ethereal Moby track during the funeral scene. All of this music creates a very soulful or energized originality to this film that melds well with its visual stylings.
There is some really well put together action including a couple of very smart, tense car chases. Action directors who love their shaky cam could learn something from this film. Stephen Kay does make use of some unsteady photography and tight framing, but the editing is properly paced so to not confuse an audience. There are quick cuts, but because the lighting is clear, the compositions are just right using good angles, it all works. The latter car chase is really great, and it has a really cool stunt crash at the end. Yet, while there is exciting action, this film maintains that emotional and character based focus as Jack Carter delves further into the seedy underbelly of Seattle.
When Jack goes into full-on revenge mode, this movie gets dead-on bad ass. The grit really surfaces in the visual style and Stallone’s performance. Everything gets pretty dark and intense as Jack deals out his sense of personal justice in violent, sometimes lethal ways. This is a revenge movie driven by a lot of emotional depth and substance. Jack is going to clean out the trash, but the mending of emotional wounds is just as important to him, if not more so. It’s all wrapped up in his personal sense of obligation to the extended family he’s neglected, and a need to prove to himself and others that he can be a better man than his history has shown. There’s also a subplot where Jack Carter is involved with the syndicate boss’ woman back in Vegas, and this runs through the film a little. It’s another emotional tether that puts stress upon Jack especially when Con is sent to “take care of business” with much intended finality. Most revenge movies are just about the violent retribution, but this movie really delves you deeply into the hearts and souls of its sympathetic characters.
Get Carter is damn good, in my opinion, because it does take the time to develop its character and give you a dimensionality to connect with. You feel Jack’s pain and his need to put things right, and your sympathy easily flows for Doreen as the film progresses. Stephen Kay did do a really exceptional job with making these characters feel poignant, and have the consequences of everyone’s actions feel like they carry the weight of the world. This is really the kind of revenge thriller that truly captivates me because it’s not just gunning people down for ninety minutes, which does have its satisfying qualities. The substance of everything here saturates the film, and Stallone carries it all so amazingly well. The ending might have used a little more weight and veracity, but the payoff is satisfying regardless. I highly recommend this remake of Get Carter. If you’re a Stallone fan, like me, you should definitely give this a watch.
Michael Mann is indeed one of my favorite filmmakers of all time. Without him, I would not be the independent filmmaker that I am today dabbling in the neo noir world of crime thrillers. For Mann, his theatrical career began here with this sleek and stylish picture headed up by an incredible performance from James Caan. The cinematic visuals of Miami Vice were forged here, and the foundations of the thematic material that would be refined in Heat and Collateral were laid with Thief. While Mann had directed and co-written the television movie The Jericho Mile before this, featuring some very familiar traits, Thief was the start of every signature quality that Mann is best known for, and it is a film that should be given its proper due respect and recognition.
James Caan plays Frank, a professional jewel thief who wants to marry Jessie (Tuesday Weld) and settle down into a normal life. In order to achieve his dream of a family, Frank–who is used to working solo–has to align himself with a crime boss named Leo (Robert Prosky), who will help him gain the money he needs to begin his domestic life. Frank plans to retire after the heist, yet he finds himself indebted to Leo and he struggles to break free.
I was captivated all over again by Thief just from the beginning as it enveloped me in the sheen of its rain soaked Chicago nighttime world, and the sleek, stylish score by Tangerine Dream. This was the first film of Mann’s I ever saw, and I was blown away by it well over a decade ago. One of the most lasting impressions is indeed Mann’s neo noir cinematic style. Everything he does here really defined so much of the 80’s with the synthesizer score and the masterful visual storytelling. When you see the sleek and rock solid camera work in Thief, it’s sad to see how horribly Mann has embraced the incessant handheld camera work as seen in Public Enemies. The compositions here are dead-on-the-mark, and shots like pushing in through the drilled hole in the safe early on just show the enveloping visual brilliance of Mann. He knew how to suck you into this world, and keep you hooked in for the long haul. Thief was shot by first time cinematographer Donald Thorin who would go on to lens Purple Rain, The Golden Child, Midnight Run, and Scent of a Woman, to name a few. There was clearly no one better for him to be under the direction of than Michael Mann, and Thorin did a stunning job shooting Thief.
This is undeniably James Caan’s movie through and through. It is no mystery why this is Caan’s personal favorite performance of his. He is simply excellent, intense, and touchingly dimensional here. Frank is a man who’s had a lot of bad turns in his life spending a good chunk of it in prison, and is now struggling to reach a blissful goal of a happy home and family. He is a definite tough guy able to be a threatening presence, and has the charismatic bravado to back it all up. Frank’s not much of a subtle individual, but he’s a man who feels he has no time to dance around the subject. Every word he speaks is carefully selected and clearly conveyed which makes him appear well-spoken even if he’s not the best educated man. Caan injects the right amount of confidence into the role to mask Frank’s occasional naivety. Caan’s favorite scene is the highway oasis diner scene where Frank details his life, hardships, and dreams to Jessie. This scene shows the subtle emotional qualities of Frank to see the better man underneath all the bullheaded machismo, and this scene strips him down to bear his heart to her. Frank shows that he is charming, sweet, and very human. Despite the hardened criminal life he has had, all he wants is a simple, happy life, and that desire is much of what endears him to an audience. However, in the end, he must return to his base, primal convict mindset to survive.
Tuesday Weld holds up very strongly opposite Caan with both an enduring spirit and a gentle tenderness. Like Frank, Jessie is also a tough person who really now reveals in an ordinary life, and what begins as a very combative relationship soon warms up to very heartfelt levels. There’s a solidly genuine chemistry between Weld and Caan that brings a lot of heart and depth into this very gritty, hard edged crime thriller. Their final parting scene is powerful on so many heartbreaking levels, and shows, definitively, that Tuesday Weld was no lightweight acting talent.
There is a startling turn that Robert Prosky achieves as Leo that solidifies him as one of the best mob figures in cinema for me. For so much of the film, he’s a fatherly figure giving Frank every means to achieve his goals, and being nothing but an agreeable, upbeat, friendly facilitator. He gives Frank high line scores, an adopted child, a home, and much more. The problem is that once Frank tries to sever ties with Leo, he’s given a very sobering reality check – everything Frank now has is essentially owned through Leo, and he can rip it all away. This scene is where Prosky transforms into a cold, heartless, ruthless man who will have Frank’s friends killed, prostitute his wife on the street, and put Frank completely into indefinite servitude. Prosky becomes flat out chilling in this scene as a man you utterly do not want to cross, but the price for having this comfortable life comes at too high a cost for Frank. So, he has no choice but to retaliate by burning it all down.
Michael Mann did a very clever thing in casting the supporting cops and criminals, and thus, made it very authentic to Chicago. All of the cops were cast with ex-convicts including John Santucci who was the basis for Frank, and all of the criminals were cast with actual Chicago police officers such as Dennis Farina in his first on-screen role. This way, we got very open and honest portrayals of the not-so-straight-and-narrow Chicago police of the time. This sort of close knit connection to the authenticity of these sides of the law carry over into the intricacies of the heists. None of the heists here are sensationalized or simplified. We see the complex and highly involved process that Frank and his crew have to go through to take a single score, and this is achieved with great skill. The depth of detail that Mann shows us allows for the audience to appreciate the triumph of the score. Furthermore, all of the equipment featured was accurate to how they were used in the film, and considering the film is based on a novel by a convicted thief, none of this should be too surprising. However, it demonstrates the intense attention to detail that Michael Mann consistently put into every project he took on, and that has always impressed me and has really set Mann’s work apart from all others. Lesser filmmakers would gloss over the details and sensationalize the story, but the grit is in the details.
There is also a good but small performance by Willie Nelson who portrays a mentor of Frank’s that is dying behind prison bars. Caan and Nelson have only one real scene together, but it really brings a lot of the life and philosophy of these criminal characters to the forefront. And Thief really is built so much on personal philosophies such as lie to no one, be the boss of your body, or live your life on your own terms. This all feeds into how Frank navigates this film. He divulges everything to Jessie because his previous marriage fell apart due to his lies. He is hesitant with going into business with Leo because he enjoys answering to no one and calling his own shots, and is ultimately why he makes the radical decisions he makes at the end of the film’s second act.
Frank’s actions in the third act might seem like those of a young man of heated passion, as they are somewhat impulsive and absolute, but they fit Frank’s “the boss of my own body” attitude. He will not allow the terms of his existence to be dictated by another, and if that is the cost of having all the things he desires, then he’d sooner see it all turned to ashes. Frank returns to that prison attitude of “nothing means nothing,” and it frees him to destroy it all and go after Leo without any attachments. This is clearly a precursor to the philosophy of Neil McCauley in Heat that, “Allow nothing to be in your life that you cannot walk out on in thirty seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner.” All of this makes for one awesome, amazing finale that just certifies James Caan as a bad ass. How Frank’s stalking through Leo’s house unfolds, with almost dead silence, is perfectly executed. The quiet tension just unnerves you, and builds up that tingling anticipation until all hell breaks loose. From there, it’s all scored with this excellent track from Tangerine Dream that I love. And overall, their score is innovative and captivating. It all reflects Michael Mann’s signature vibe perfectly with sleekness and edge.
Thief is an intensely exciting movie with a very grounded feeling. Seeing Mann’s visual style unfold here is amazing, and James Caan puts on an excellent, versatile performance that enhances every compelling element of the movie. It’s stunning to see how quickly Mann evolved in his career where so many of the ideas and visual storytelling here would be refined and matured within three years for the launch of Miami Vice, and the major leap forward taken in 1986 with Manhunter. Whether you are a Mann or Caan fan, this is a film you cannot afford to overlook. No one makes crime thrillers quite like Mann did as he made sure every quality and acting talent was superb and pitch perfect while always delving into the humanity of the story. With Mann it’s always about the characters, and you see the depth of that care put into this movie. If you want an even further in-depth look at the films of Michael Mann, I immensely endorse the video essay Zen Pulp: The World of Michael Mann. It is remarkably insightful that really inspires me.
The year of 1995 is my favorite year in film giving us so many beloved favorites of mine such as Lord of Illusions, The Usual Suspects, Seven, In The Mouth of Madness, GoldenEye, The Prophecy, Strange Days, and more. This year also gave us a brilliant union of powerhouse talents when Michael Mann brought together screen legends Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in Heat. While I consider Manhunter my favorite, and The Insider to be Mann’s best film, I cannot deny that Heat is a crime saga masterpiece. It is finally Michael Mann refined and matured to a breath-taking level developing his signature concepts to perfection. I can think of no more appropriate film to hold the honor of the 200th review on Forever Cinematic than Heat.
Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) is a master thief who lives by the simple discipline of “have nothing in your life you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the “heat” around the corner.” His crew of career criminals is a high-tech outfit pulling off professional jobs that impress even the likes of Detective Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino). But Hanna, a man driven through life only by his work, becomes obsessed, at the expense of his private life, with bringing McCauley down. As McCauley’s crew prepare for the score of a lifetime, and Hanna’s team tries to bring him in, the two find that they are similar in many ways, including their troubled personal lives. Ultimately, they find themselves challenged by the greatest minds on the opposite side of the law that either one has ever encountered. With this much heat, the streets of Los Angeles are ready to sizzle and explode!
Heat is filled with excellent performances from everyone involved that it’s hard not to touch upon most of them. Firstly, I am engrossed by the dynamic between Vincent Hanna and Neil McCauley. Hanna is a man whose life is wholly dedicated to his job, and thus, his home life is a disaster with multiple divorces to show for it. Meanwhile, McCauley has his life in control as he takes precision high line scores, but lives a disparate life of bare necessities allowing himself no attachments he cannot walk out on in thirty seconds flat if circumstances require it. Thus, despite these men being on opposite sides of the law, they find themselves in a near symbiotic relationship which fuels the compulsions of their lives. They are both driven by their jobs being out there on the streets in the middle of danger, and everything else in their lives is sacrificed for that. All they are is what they’re going after. That’s what fuels their existences, and Heat is all about that electrifying synergy.
Al Pacino has always been known as a passionate, charismatic actor, and Vincent Hanna surely has that energetic, sharp edge which makes him immensely entertaining here. However, it is the more subtle aspects of the performance that are where the real juice is. You see the razor sharp mind of Hanna when he arrives on the armored car robbery scene. He sees it, absorbs it, and hits all the marks deconstructing every detail of the crime. He doesn’t miss a beat, doesn’t overlook or dismiss anything. You see the proficiency of Neil McCauley and how his crew operates, and then, you see Hanna and his team operate on that same exact level only on the opposite side of that coin. Yet, the depth of Hanna comes to the surface when Vincent converses with his wife, Justine. The weariness and ugliness of his job forces an emotional rift between them, and Pacino’s performance reflects the inner angst and emotional toll that it wreaks on Hanna. These things do affect him, but he never becomes a jaded, pessimistic, desensitized person. Al Pacino absorbs all of that into a subtle and complex performance that energizes the screen.
And delivering a performance on an equal level of weight and intelligence is Robert De Niro. He’s entirely formidable making Neil McCauley a very serious and definitive threat to everyone who opposes him. De Niro has a serious, hard edged presence that dominates the screen, and every move, every word, every course of action he makes is efficient. There’s a full immersion into the character in all his nuances and textures. Sometimes, a great performance is seen in raw emotion, but other times, it’s all in the subtle complexities. That is what De Niro give us here showing the versatile diversity of this character from cold, hard criminal to the loyal, caring friend and lover. Despite being the antagonist in the story, we see a real heart when Neil becomes involved with Eady. It’s takes a masterful actor and filmmaker to take a character like McCauley who will sanction and be entirely sociopathic about the murder of innocent people, and do something so human with him to where you genuinely feel his depth of heart. Surely, that’s nothing you would want translated into reality, but in a fictional narrative, it provides a captivating dimensionality that Robert De Niro captures with pitch perfect substance.
Val Kilmer was really in his peak at this time after his stunning turn as Doc Holliday in Tombstone. Thus, he was filming Heat concurrently with Batman Forever, really capitalizing on two excellent opportunities. Here, his role might be overlooked by the presence of Pacino and De Niro, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t top notch. Chris Shiherlis proves to be a really intense character with his gambling addiction and marital strives, and Kilmer really absorbs the weary heart of Chris deeply into his performance. Despite infidelities on the part of Chris and his wife Charlene, portrayed tremendously by Ashley Judd, their final shared moment strikes deep within the heart to show just how much they both truly loved one another, but their marriage was never built to last. Kilmer hits all the marks to make this character standout solidly alongside De Niro, and to a lesser extent, Tom Sizemore does the same as the more action junkie sociopath Michael Cheritto. There’s a real strong brotherhood between Neil and Chris that shows through shiningly, and that relationship brings a lot of dimension to both characters.
I’m fascinated by the chain reaction of events here which create numerous exciting plot turns. Essentially, Waingro is the key cog who sets everything in motion. Without him going off the handle and facilitating the triple homicide, Vincent Hanna likely would not have been as dogged to track down McCauley and his crew. He’d be intrigued by the precision professionals, but it would just be another robbery. Then, Waingro betrays McCauley to his enemies, forcing the bank heist to turn into a violent, deadly shootout and propelling McCauley to make the irrational decision to go after him instead of escaping free and clear. Waingro turns the tide of the story at pivotal moments because he is a wild card with no loyalty to anyone but his own base, primal impulses. Furthermore, Kevin Gage is perfect in this role making for a wholly convincing hardened ex-convict sociopath who is dreadfully frightening and intimidating. It’s sadly poetic that less than a decade later he would become a federal convict for cultivating medicinal marijuana.
The other intriguing quality of Heat are the women. Michael Mann always makes the affectionate, strong women of his films vitally important to the arcs and stories of the male leads, and never objectifies them. The significant others of Hanna, McCauley, and Shiherlis are all passionate, loving women who desire a stable life. Justine Hanna grapples with Vincent’s internalized angst from the horrors he sees out on those streets, and just wants a husband who opens up to her instead of being distant, closed off, and vacant in their marriage. She wants a marriage with love not ragged leftovers of a man who drifts through their lives empty. Eady, portrayed by Amy Brenneman, is the most innocent of them all existing entirely outside the world of cops and criminals. She’s a simple, honest, warm person that unexpectedly opens up Neil’s world and gives him something to be affectionate about. For a man who lives with no attachments of any kind, it’s finally someone in his life that makes him care to have a life. Charlene, however, is the real gold for me as Ashley Judd is confident, heartbreaking and truly empathic as Chris’ wife. As I said, there is a deep down, genuine love between Chris and Charlene, but there’s so much addictive and combative garbage in the way that it was destined to crumble. For me, the Shiherlis dynamic is the most complex and substantive one of the film because of that real quality of conflict and adoration between them.
Without a doubt, Danté Spinotti is a remarkable cinematographer, and he does an excellent, stunning job with Heat. He composes so many carefully selected shots which tell a very visual story that holds weight. Just as Mann had fully refined and developed his artistic sensibilities so had Spinotti making this a very sophisticated looking and composed picture. There are pure moments of inspired artistry creating a masterful canvas that this story is told upon. This is also a film that feels very engrained and engrossed in the fiber of Los Angeles because of the visual vibe. Shots of the skyline in hazy daylight or glowing nighttime neo noir create that great backdrop that has substance and life.
Upon this watch of the movie, I picked up far more on Elliott Goldenthal’s amazingly original and pulsating score. A lot of what he does are subtle textures and melodies that nicely underscore various scenes. His score doesn’t fight for dominance in the audio mix. It complements everything that Mann is doing with the emotion, characters, and story. At times, Goldenthal’s score can be very powerful and striking such as the moment where Chris and Charlene are forced to abandon each other because of the police stakeout. The emotional pain swells into the score in a haunting swirl. Then, there’s the parting phone call between Neil and Nate that reflects the sorrowful feeling of two people, best of friends, saying goodbye for the final time, and Goldenthal’s score hits that mark so beautifully. Every single moment is so perfectly punctuated, and should be considered amongst his best work. Additionally, the two tracks by Moby are beautiful, superb, innovative tracks that saturate the power of their respective scenes, most notably being the ending with “God Moving Over The Face of The Waters.”
Of course, the big, electrifying selling point of this film was having two of America’s most celebrated actors, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, collide in all their glory. That would not be complete without the excellent diner scene where Vincent Hanna and Neil McCauley have a very probing conversation. The very interesting quality of that scene is that this is the only point in time where these two men are able to be entirely open, honest, and reveal their inner workings. They are more intimately connected with each other than with anyone else in their lives. Again, the subtle performances of depth and honesty make this the absolute nexus of this entire film. Heat was previously made as a TV movie called L.A. Takedown by Michael Mann, and when you watch this scene performed by very second rate, stiff or hollow actors with almost identical dialogue, you realize the gold standard quality of Pacino and De Niro. In their hands, Vincent Hanna and Neil McCauley are brilliantly fleshed out and fascinating characters, and this is the scene that shows them stripped down. They show what haunts them and what drives them. There is no pretense between these men, and they realize that they are very similar despite being the flip side of each other. These are the only two people alike in this world of Michael Mann’s film that truly, undeniably understand one another. Furthermore, this scene is entirely integral to how the film’s climax unfolds.
Firstly, that shootout in the streets of downtown Los Angeles is one of the most ear-blistering sonic experiences ever, and that’s coming from a heavy metal fan. Michael Mann had considered using post-production sound effects for this, but realized that the realistic production audio created the true power and impact he wanted. It conveys the violent magnitude of real life gunfire and enhanced the danger of this sequence exponentially. The precision of every tactic is true to how Michael Mann approached his films. He made sure that every detail was accurate to life, and that mentality makes his films far more interesting to witness than the more over-the-top action sequences we get in the big, fun blockbusters.
The climax of Heat narrows everything down to what the whole film has been about at its core – Vincent Hanna and Neil McCauley. These two men, who exist in a world separated from the mainstream of society and defined by its own rules, are now pitted against one another in an electrifying, tense, and suspenseful cat and mouse sequence that is absolutely pitch perfect, and showcases the unequivocal skill of Michael Mann. The moment where McCauley sees Hanna just as he is to ride off with Eady is beautiful, painful, and eloquent. Neil invokes his “thirty seconds flat” rule turning away from Eady for his own survival, and the ensuing chase towards LAX is wonderfully and smartly plotted. The climactic moment is excellent and poetic. Then, after it’s all over, these two men are bonded together in a strikingly profound moment that ends the film on an astonishing stroke of pure brilliance.
I had always taken Heat for granted as that great crime saga pinnacle for Michael Mann, but until now, I never peered deeply enough into it to see the subtle brilliance of it. Many of his films are easier to see the inspired breadth and depth, but Heat has so many fine brush strokes of detail, interwoven threads, and subtext that only a real immersion into it made me absorb it all. This is truly a brilliantly written, directed, and acted film that did not get the recognition it deserved during awards season. Michael Mann himself received no nominations for his screenplay or directing, and Pacino, De Niro, or Kilmer received no acting award nominations either. It’s amazing to me that so many incredible, mold breaking, and standard setting films were released this year, and those I hold in highest regard barely got any recognition from any major awards organizations. This is why I find it hard to put much weight into these organizations because they’d rather nominate a movie about a talking animatronic pig over brilliant masterpieces like Heat, Strange Days, The Usual Suspects, or Seven for Best Picture or Best Director. Today, nobody talks about Babe, but people still endlessly praise those others films because they launched careers, took stunning risks, set new standards, and blew peoples’ minds. And when Michael Mann finally got his just nominations, he didn’t win a single one for what no one will ever be able to tell me wasn’t the best movie released in the year 1999 – The Insider. However, for the next review, I go back to the beginning of Michael Mann’s feature film career with Thief.
Every so often a movie comes around that just looks interesting, but you are not prepared for just how stunning it truly is. It just seems like another good thriller that might be nicely satisfying, but this movie is far and beyond such meager expectations. Prisoners attracted me because I really love Hugh Jackman. He has such a genuine depth of humanity and intense screen presence in so much of what he does, but even then, I didn’t expect a performance and a film on this level of masterful brilliance.
How far would you go to protect your family? Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is facing every parent’s worst nightmare. His six-year-old daughter, Anna, is missing, together with her young friend, Joy, and as minutes turn to hours, panic sets in. The only lead is a dilapidated RV that had earlier been parked on their street. Heading the investigation, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrests its driver, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), but a lack of evidence forces his release. As the police pursue multiple leads and pressure mounts, knowing his child’s life is at stake the frantic Dover decides he has no choice but to take matters into his own hands. But just how far will this desperate father go to protect his family?
Brought to us by director Denis Villeneuve, Prisoners is undoubtedly the best film I have seen all year. A tight, taut, suspenseful and engrossing thriller that hits powerful emotional chords everywhere. If you thought the trailers gave too much away, you are very mistaken. There is so much more substance and plot nuances that a trailer could never accurately convey. Surely, I will not spoil anything for you, but the mystery of this film is cunningly devised with intelligent turns and a remarkable progression. There are many fine layers of character, emotion, and story here that interweave perfectly and beautifully. We are treated to so many well fleshed out characters inhabiting a story of very intense emotions and radical, unsettling violent actions with nerve racking consequences. You feel every ounce of emotion from these characters, and Villeneuve’s direction shines gloriously in every detail. I also love that nothing in this film is a red herring. Every lead, every piece of evidence, every detail adds to the puzzle which is brilliantly plotted out from a stunningly well written screenplay by Aaron Guzikowski. Prisoners is meticulously mapped out every step of the way, and Villeneuve utilizes all of that emotion and strategic, deliberate pacing to absorb you into the movie.
The cinematographer for this film was Roger Deakins, who also shot Skyfall which was immaculate work, and he does not falter here at all. I was constantly struck by the quality of the compositions as they all hold so much weight. Villeneuve has this shot and edited in a very conservative manner so that the substance of every frame soaks into the viewer so deeply. Early on, I love how fairly brief scenes are played out in wide masters to give you a dramatic and stoic impact on the story. The inspired cinematography constantly envelopes the screen translating the dramatic power of Villeneuve’s cinematic narrative in such exquisite detail and poignancy. The quality of the visuals, how the film is shot, and the style of editing constantly made me feel like this was a very 1970’s thriller with a modern polish. Even the Earth toned color palette reflects that, and the autumn / winter setting adds to the grim, somber atmosphere. Every technical quality of this movie is used to suck you into the depth of what transpires. Even the score is immensely effective, yet subtle. Everything just works with such precision to excellent effect.
I honestly believe that Hugh Jackman could possibly earn himself some accolades come awards season time. My faith in his talent has been paid off time and again, and I love seeing him in these gritty, hard hitting dramatic films. Keller Dover is a man who believes in preparing for the worst while praying for the best, and so, he is used to doing everything possible to protect his family from all dangers. When he feels he must take matters into his own hands, the emotional intensity of the film escalates drastically. Jackman is intensely powerful in this role pushing himself to that extra level that separates great from extraordinary. Pure, raw emotion pours out of him as Keller Dover struggles with doing the right thing for his daughter even though it is the worst, most unimaginable thing he’s ever done. The absolute conviction of what he believes he must do penetrates right through the screen right into your soul. This film constantly pushes this character into further emotionally and morally strained situations that challenge Jackman to deliver on higher and higher levels which he exceeds over and over again. This is why I love Hugh Jackman and why I was drawn to seeing this movie. He’s an incredibly relatable and engaging acting talent who pulls you in based on his depth of humanity, and that is gorgeously on display here in a masterfully crafted film.
Now, I haven’t seen Jake Gyllenhaal in anything since Donnie Darko, and it’s great seeing him in a mature, hard edge role. He is really solid as this vehemently dedicated cop who maintains a level head while remaining fully committed to this case. I love seeing how Detective Loki handles the strained, heated emotions of the Dovers and Birches, and how he manages everything with meticulous perceptiveness and a dogged mentality. It’s a wonderfully written character that empathizes with these hurting people and conveys his confidence with sincerity. Gyllenhaal is intensely compelling and intriguing to watch as the film progresses. From the moment he’s introduced, eating alone at a Chinese restaurant on Thanksgiving, he is complex and unique. I like the nuances added into his character such as the various small tattoos on his hands and neck. They give him a darker, grittier edge along with Gyllenhaal’s sort of dark aura. Yet, he is not a dark character, but is a riveting one that adds his own intensity to the narrative. This is also a marvelous performance that only becomes more fascinating and gripping at the film progresses.
The rest of the cast is equally as powerful. Mario Bello’s character of Grace Dover deals with this frightening tragedy of her abducted daughter by falling apart, relying on medication, and just becoming a mess. It’s a pure visceral deterioration of a person torn apart by fear and pain for a loved one. Terrence Howard is another actor I just love, and he delivers such vulnerability. The struggle Franklin Birch faces when Keller pulls him into the abduction and torture of Alex Jones is a perfectly human conflict. He wants his daughter back so badly, but almost can’t reconcile the morality of what he and Keller are doing to this man with the IQ of a ten year old. The dynamics between all of these characters and their passionate, pained emotions is magnificent to behold. Even Paul Dano makes you empathize so deeply for Alex. You are never certain whether he is responsible for anything at all, or that Keller is torturing a completely innocent man. The story twists around so beautifully wrapping everyone up in this complex tapestry that any truth is possible. Even more so, nothing is all that clean cut for any suspect, and no one is completely innocent. Everyone has something shameful, shady, or tragic which shows that these are real, textured, flawed people. Every character is written and performed with such substance and rawness that you can never take anything for granted or predict where this story will lead you.
I was constantly pleased with the sophistication of storytelling here. There were times I was a tad apprehensive that the pay-off of the mystery, or that the identity of the abductor would be spoiled too soon. Instead, it was another element of the puzzle being laid out carefully with surprising, unexpected, yet entirely purposeful turns. As I said, nothing is a swerve. You’re not lead down a frivolous path to a false lead. Everything introduced in this story is there for a substantial reason. The ultimate reveal is great allowing for everything to really fall into place, and put certain characters into further, tenser jeopardy. I loved how the final act unfolds. There’s real danger at hand, and nothing proceeds remotely like a cliché. This is a fresh, smart thriller that will captivate your attention for its entire 146 minute runtime. One would think that a deliberately paced thriller with that kind of runtime would lag somewhere or feel drawn out, but Prisoners makes amazingly solid use of every minute of screentime to progress every element of story and character to its ultimate, immensely satisfying and brilliant conclusion.
Denis Villeneuve has just come out of nowhere for me, and now, he has my undivided attention. Prisoners is absolutely perfect. There is not a single aspect of it for me to criticize, only praise. This is an incredible cast delivering amazingly powerful and raw performances in a rattling and haunting thriller. I have never stated in a review of a newly released movie that it is the best one I have seen all year because you never know what else could surprise you in the remainder of that year. However, I cannot imagine what else is possibly going to steal away that title from Prisoners because it is that stunningly impressive without a flaw in sight. Do yourself a great favor and see this movie and support it. I hope you are as enthralled with it as I was.
Many know Kathryn Bigelow from her Academy Award winning and nominated films of recent years. However, her earlier work features some stunning films that showcase a brilliant visionary style, and no other movie reflects that better than Strange Days. Released in my favorite year in film, 1995, it bombed at the box office, but gained quite a lot of praise. Roger Ebert even gave it a four out of four stars, and it was nominated for several Saturn Awards including Best Science Fiction Film with Bigelow winning for Best Director. Time has since allowed for this film to gain a wider appreciation from genre fans, and I’ve wanted to share mine with you for quite a while now. Strange Days is essentially the Blade Runner of the 1990’s, but even Blade Runner doesn’t do to me what Strange Days does.
It’s the eve of the millennium in Los Angeles, December 31, 1999. Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) is an ex-cop turned street hustler who preys on human nature by dealing the drug of the future. A new technology, called “wire tripping,” allows for anyone to re-live actual life experiences tapping directly into the cerebral cortex for the ultimate escapist high. However, Lenny is soon tangled up in a deadly plot, alongside limousine driver and security specialist Mace (Angela Bassett), when a set of murderous and controversial wire trip recordings end up in his possession that could have radical implications upon the entire city. It’s an environment that will lead him deep into the danger zone when he falls into a maze filled with intrigue and betrayal, murder and conspiracy.
Kathryn Bigelow was married to James Cameron for a time, and even after their marriage ended, they remained regular collaborators. Cameron was a producer on this film, co-screenwriter, and an uncredited editor. I can definitely see his creative influence at work. It’s that real depth of humanity on display with all of these colorful characters, real penetrating emotion, exciting science fiction ideas, and the exciting energy of storytelling which harkens back to The Terminator. His creative fingerprints are clearly here, and they are wrapped up in Bigelow’s razor sharp pacing, incredible direction, and mind blowing visuals.
The look of the movie definitely has that dystopian vibe with a lot of grit, smoke, neon, and seedy locales. Yet, it doesn’t look depressing, but instead, it’s exciting and intense. The cinematography is just simply stunning, and it will escape me to no end how Batman Forever got nominated at the Oscars for Best Cinematography this year while Strange Days was entirely snubbed as well as The Usual Suspects, Seven, and Twelve Monkeys. All of those are vastly superior looking and shot films on every level, and Strange Days is really in a league all its own from the signature James Cameron blue tinge style to Bigelow’s really dynamic visual edge that absorbs us fully into this dark, vibrant, mind-twisting reality. The camera work is amazingly dynamic, intriguing, and inspired. It’s a visual feast that really embraces a kinetic energy without ever sacrificing artistic integrity. If you took Blade Runner and hyper-charged it with adrenalin and a riveting edge of flash, you would get Strange Days.
The movie jacks you into a wire trip from the start to clearly convey the language of the experience. People are buying these recordings to experience the forbidden pleasures in life like armed robbery or sexual desires. It’s an extremely tempting thing that gives you all the rush and excitement without consequence, but it’s entirely illegal forcing Lenny to be the king of this underground business. Thus, he comes into the center of two related criminal plots. The first involves a pair of corrupt cops, portrayed by William Fichtner and Vincent D’Onofrio, tracking down a damning wire trip recording that could erupt the entire city in violence and outrage. The second is someone who stalked, raped, and murdered a friend of Lenny’s, and now is focusing his sick and disturbing torment on Lenny himself. All of this melds together into a larger conspiracy that engulfs these characters into a powerful dramatic story that rips and tears at emotions with severe risks and consequences.
Now, I absolutely love Ralph Fiennes as Lenny Nero. He’s the real crux of this whole film energizing it with his slick charm and charisma. He’s a mesmerizing salesman selling fantasies with the sensation of pure, raw reality. Yet, he never comes across as sleazy. Fiennes makes Lenny very genuine in everything he does, and thus, he is the perfect unlikely hero with a yearning broken heart, a life of down and out black market seediness, and a real vulnerable quality to him. Ralph Fiennes is an incredible actor, and he makes this a very deeply human and emotionally vulnerable character that draws you completely into the film. Lenny Nero is not a man who views himself as a hero, but the frightening descent that he is caught up in forces him to take action, especially with his former love Faith, portrayed greatly by Juliette Lewis, at the center of it. Faith has fully fallen into the deep end of the sleaze as a rock singer hooked up with Michael Wincott’s wire trip addicted record label owner Philo Gant. Lenny desperately wants to win her back, or at least, pull her out of that deep end. As a side note, I really love the wardrobe of Lenny Nero. It’s very stylish and flashy with plenty of unique personality, much like Lenny himself.
Angela Bassett is absolutely bad ass here in a very gritty, powerful way. Mace is exceptionally tough not taking any crap from Lenny, who hustles and leeches favors off her when he’s down and out, and as a security specialist, she can back up every ounce of that attitude. Bassett exudes energy and strength in every frame, and intensifies every moment. I’ve always been impressed by Bassett’s mixture of tough exterior with a tender interior. She definitely brings that out in Mace with all the raw emotional power possible.
Now, you talk about Academy Award quality work, I honestly believe that both Bassett and Fiennes achieved that in this film. Had Strange Days not fallen under the radar, I believe it would have been heralded with that kind of reverence at the time. Both Bassett and Fiennes deliver stunning, deeply powerful performances, and the script fuses Lenny and Mace together in a very personal way born out of tragedy and heartbreak. Furthermore, the chemistry between Bassett and Fiennes is spectacular. They spark off amazingly whether it’s sharp wit and humor, vehement conviction, or deep emotional drama. They are an electrifying pair which forge a riveting gravitas around them, but also make it a fun ride with their great rhythm and heart.
This film is just filled with an array of exceptional acting talents putting forth their best. From Tom Sizemore to Juliette Lewis to William Fichtner to Vincent D’Onofrio to Michael Wincott, the supporting cast is bursting with charisma, awesomeness, and solidarity. Everyone is equally as compelling and vibrant creating a very electrifying ensemble. Under Kathryn Bigelow’s direction, everyone delivers a powerful and intensely memorable performance. Bigelow seems to very much favor Sizemore as he appeared in Blue Steel and Point Break with much smaller roles, but here, he’s given a very prominent role as Max, a friend of Lenny’s who is still on the police force that weaves himself tightly into this plot.
On top of having that mind-blowing, amazing cast, Bigelow delivers an exciting, riveting thriller. The mysteries are wonderfully interwoven with all the character dynamics, volatile social climate, and science fiction tech elements. There’s wickedly tight tension and heart-pounding excitement at every turn. The powder keg of Los Angeles is building towards an explosion, and the lethality of the situation only builds as forces converge. This is a movie that constantly pushes further and further along the razor’s edge of madness, suspense, and danger. Surely, there is action here handled with the riveting intensity that Bigelow demonstrated with Point Break, but saturated with larger doses of style and exhilaration, if that’s even imaginable. The two corrupt cops dousing Mace’s limo with gasoline and lighting it on fire forcing her to drive it into in the bay, and then, make a shotgun glass shattering escape to avoid drowning is superbly executed, as is everything here. This film is soaked in emotion and thrilling, edge of your seat suspense, but still finds those moments of pure entertainment to make it a greatly fun experience.
Surely, the odd aspect of the film is that it was released in 1995 and takes place in the year of 1999 featuring a very radical decline in society. It’s a very narrow jump into the future. However, I really do like that it uses that “end of the millennium” sort of craziness and chaos to enhance every aspect of the film. Strange Days also reflects a lot of early 90’s Los Angeles culture with the earthquakes, riots, and police brutality incidents, and so, it feels very encapsulating of what one could pessimistically feel the future of that Los Angeles could have been. People are packing assault rifles, cops are wearing tactical riot gear, and the entire city looks like it’s on the edge of all our war. This is the vibe and energy that Bigelow injects into the fiber of the film, and it really erupts in the film’s climax. Strange Days is more than just a cyberpunk thriller, it has real social commentary on the darkest parts of society with shocking consequences. The climax leaves me speechless. I really don’t have the words reserved to describe it. There is no easy road taken in this story, and nothing is handled lightly. This is a hard hitting, gritty, visceral film that holds nothing back on any level.
Fueling all of that is a stellar score by Graeme Revell and a very aggressive soundtrack of mid-1990s electronic, heavy metal, and edgy music. Every creative element of this movie is jacked into that kinetic, cyberpunk style that soars to magnificent heights. It’s a pure encapsulation of a stunning vision by Bigelow built on the foundation of a rock solid, stunningly intelligent screenplay by James Cameron and Jay Cocks.
Strange Days is a brilliant, incredible movie with a lot of strong thematic material, wickedly amazing performances, and a spectacular visual style. This is one of the best and most original movies I have ever seen. My mind was blown all over again watching it for this review. Kathryn Bigelow would not be nominated for an Academy Award until 2010, but the evidence of her shockingly amazing talent was evident in 1995 with Strange Days. This is a film that deserves vastly more exposure, credit, and accolades than it has received. Surely, Point Break fulfills every action film adrenalin rush satisfaction for me, but this is the remarkable, awe-inspiring film experience. This is surely, without a doubt, the far superior film of the two, but both deliver on every promise and exceed expectations every step of the way. My recommendation is that you must see this movie no matter what!
There are so many action movie classics that people call the best, but for me, Point Break is a special, unique film that is, without a doubt, my favorite action movie of all time. What compels me about this movie that beyond all others is the intense relationship between the protagonist and antagonist. It creates this amazingly unique dynamic that forges the entire electric, kamikaze adrenalin rush of this film. So, let’s delve into Kathryn Bigelow’s action classic.
Rookie FBI Agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) goes undercover to infiltrate a cache of Southern California surfers suspected of robbing banks. Utah, a former football player, is assigned to Los Angeles. There, four bank robbers, who wear rubber masks and call themselves “The Ex-Presidents,” have executed a series of successful robberies which embarrassingly have the FBI stumped. Utah, and his partner Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey) suspect that the robbers are surfers and hatch a plan for catching them, but the deeper Utah gets connected to the charismatic adrenalin driven Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) and the beautiful Tyler Endicott (Lori Petty) the harder it is for him to jump off this tidal wave of danger and excitement.
Point Break absolutely lives up to its premise as being 100% pure adrenalin. The surfing aspect is just the entryway into this, but it remains at the core of the whole film. That elevated experience shared by Bodhi and Johnny, specifically, is what fuses those two characters together, and is treated with great respect by the filmmakers. The skydiving sequences escalate that to another level with breathtaking cinematography that envelopes you in the experience, and make for a radically insane sequence where Johnny jumps out of the plane, without a parachute, to capture the escaping Bodhi. The earlier chase sequence is visceral and intense that really utilizes a rougher style of camera exceptionally well. And of course, the bank robberies are slam banged into a high gear that shows just how proficient and threatening the Ex-Presidents are. It is no wonder why the FBI has not been able to catch them after twenty-seven banks over three years. Wrap all of this up, and you’ve got a film that goes for the physical thrill of the moment over special effects spectacle. It’s really all about the character dynamics and these scenarios of extreme rushes that provide the high octane exhilaration of Point Break.
Beyond just the action, the core of this film’s compelling energy are the excellent arcs for both Johnny and Bodhi. You see Special Agent Utah at the start being this fresh from the academy FBI rookie all straight laced and green, but you can see the eagerness underneath that later fuels that adrenalin junkie urge. Johnny and Bodhi become genuinely intertwined in a naturally evolving way that inches Utah further towards that kamikaze impulse. Bodhi’s charisma and aura sucks Johnny right in, but it’s never manipulative. Everything Bodhi conveys is honest straight to his core, and every word of it energizes Johnny. Most action films have a clear delineation between the protagonist and the antagonist, but here, things are not so clean cut. Once Johnny is caught up in Bodhi’s tsunami of pure adrenalin, there’s no way out, and he has to ride it out all the way to its heart pounding, violent end. Bodhi will push everything to its absolute breaking point while risking everything and everyone in the process, and there is a price to pay for it.
Quite frankly, this would have to be the movie that made me a serious Keanu Reeves fan. A lot of people give him crap, but I give him a lot of credit. There’s a great deal of subtle development of Johnny Utah between Reeves’ performance and Bigelow’s direction. This all occurs as he further embraces the philosophy of Bodhi and his love for Tyler. Keanu Reeves and Lori Petty have very pure, heartwarming chemistry. Tyler is vibrant and full of brightness that adds glowing life to Johnny. Meanwhile, as the connection between Johnny and Bodhi intensifies, so does the performance of Reeves. Johnny becomes more confident, more determined, and less bound by rules as he is propelled out of control through Bodhi’s deadly thrill ride. I feel Reeves becomes more compelling as the third act shifts into high gear, and Johnny has to has to jump right off the deep end after Bodhi.
Kathryn Bigelow’s direction really envelopes you into Johnny’s mindset whether he’s mesmerized, haunted, elated, or burning with conviction. Through all of this Reeves is genuine and sincere in his emotions. You are kept very closely in tuned with Johnny’s mindset through successes, failures, and conflicts. Point Break is a film that drives everything right to the edge. Every danger, every extreme, every adrenalin rush is pushed to its insane limits at whatever cost imaginable. Bodhi embraces this without hesitation or a moral compass. He’s essentially a barreling freight train unwilling to put on the brakes regardless of what it will cost him.
Patrick Swayze is wickedly good as Bodhi. He envelopes the character entirely in philosophy, conviction, physicality, and spirituality. I love how Bodhi has this ethereal link to the sea, and gains a serenity from surfing while being an extreme adrenalin junkie. Yet, it’s not merely about the thrill with the bank robberies. He has a greater purpose by showing the shackled masses living their mundane, slave to the grind lives that the human spirit is thriving within his crew. Swayze is so electrifying with his natural charisma and intense commitment to the character. When I watch this film, I don’t perceive Patrick Swayze playing a role. I see Bodhi through and through. Swayze is stunningly excellent here, and I’m still a little sad that he is no longer with us. He was an amazingly talented actor, and this should stand as one of his best, most compelling performances.
Rounding out the main cast is Gary Busey in a great, entertaining role as Angelo Pappas. He can be hilariously funny and quirky, but solidly dramatic in the right moments. It’s a really well rounded character portrayed by an actor with the smart talent to balance those elements out perfectly. Plus, there’s John C. McGinley as FBI Director Ben Harp. Surely, he might seem like the stereotypical loud mouthed boss slinging insults around to his subordinates, but McGinley’s such a strongly talented actor that it never comes off as shallow or tired. Add in a touch of smug arrogance, and the character of Harp works dead-on-the-mark in McGinley’s hands.
The musical score by Mark Isham is really fantastic. For one, I love how he captures the enveloping spiritual sense of the sea with smooth, flowing compositions. It’s very beautiful work that reflects the philosophies of Bodhi long before he enters the film officially. There is another gorgeous cue that reflects the mystique of Bodhi that’s only a few chords, but it’s repeated a few times to very magical effect. The action cues are good, yet subtle. Isham never bombards you with pounding percussion.
The soundtrack is energized with songs that capture that Southern California feel from bands such as L.A. Guns, Concrete Blonde, Jimi Hendrix, Public Image Ltd., and capped off with my beloved “Nobody Rides For Free” by Ratt. That song perfectly concludes the film, and reflects the constant energy and excitement that runs through it.
The film really escalates to another level when Johnny realizes who the Ex-Presidents actually are, and that super charges every scene from there on out. The emotions hang on the razor’s edge. For Bodhi, it ups the stakes making the adrenalin rush and peril even more appetizing for him. For Johnny, it creates conflict as he has forged a very close bond and kinship with Bodhi, but is soon forced to do whatever is necessary as Tyler is put into imminent peril. Unlike most action movies such as Die Hard where it’s very straight forward that this is the bad guy and he’s going to die without question, Point Break makes it all far less certain because all of these emotions, some are unexplainable, cloud and complicate the issue. What all of this builds to is possibly my favorite movie ending of all time that entirely departs from all action film expectations.
The relationship between Johnny Utah and Bodhi reaches its apex on a storm soaked beach. Their connection remains electrifying as these two clash, but it’s not the fist fight that makes this as great as it is. Johnny finally has Bodhi in handcuffs ready to put him in a cage for life, but it’s that spiritual kinship between the two that sparks off something unique. All the groundwork for this ending is laid early on in the film in one scene over a bonfire, and the pay-off is amazing to me. Point Break is my favorite action film not because it has the best action sequences, or because of its pleasantly memorable dialogue. It’s because of the culmination of this ending. Everything that these two characters have developed between each other throughout the movie is so smartly interwoven, setup, and punctuated here. It concludes an amazing arc for Johnny Utah who begins as this clean cut rookie FBI Agent who changes into someone driven by impulse, emotion, and that inexplicable sensation he gets out on those waves. He pursues Bodhi down around the world for months on end, but in those final moments with an honest plea from Bodhi that only Johnny can understand fully, you get an ending that breaks a lot of rules in all the right ways. This ending captivates me to no end that I have attempted to homage and replicate in many of my own scripts.
Karthryn Bigelow did not have any real box office success prior to this film, despite turning out some quite good films such as Near Dark and Blue Steel. With Point Break, she really came into fruition with a greatly exciting, fresh, and original summer action picture that really delivered. She shows a great visual style here that pinpoints emotion greatly and really envelopes you into every fiber of this film. Possibly less than half of Bigelow’s movies in her thirty year career have actually been box office successes, and that’s a horrible shame. I think she is an incredible director who showed a great deal of potential here, which she would capitalize upon in with stunning results in Strange Days. Her collaboration on both pictures with now ex-husband James Cameron really shows through in all the best ways. Point Break shares some common ground with Cameron’s work, and even he draws some parallels between the endings of this movie and Terminator 2. Regardless, I will take no credit away from Bigelow who gave us this excellent pure adrenalin rush of a movie which has not been replicated since. I think it goes without saying that I recommend this movie with great passion.
This is one of those movies I haven’t watched since the 1990’s, but I remember liking it a lot. In watching it again, it’s amazing just how much of it I remember, which is a hell of a lot. This might seem like an under the radar action movie, especially since it couldn’t even earn back half of its $8 million budget upon its theatrical release, but boasting a cast of Christopher Lambert, Mario Van Peebles, Denis Leary, and Patrick Stewart, it’s got respectable muscle. That’s one thing that always struck me strongly about Gunmen in addition to Lambert and Van Peebles teaming up as buddies in this, and then, portraying enemies the following year in the third Highlander movie. So, let’s see what Gunmen has to offer that I find so vastly entertaining.
A bounty hunter, Cole Parker (Mario Van Peebles), and a con man, Dani Servigo (Christopher Lambert), each have half the clues to the whereabouts of a $400 million treasure of stolen drug money. Against their wills they are forced to team up to battle an elite squad of mafia assassins employed by the wheelchair bound Loomis (Patrick Stewart), and led by the ruthless Armor O’Malley (Denis Leary). If Cole and Dani survive a relentless chase across a jungle and two continents, they will have to face each other because a half billion dollars is not enough to share.
Gunmen is a fun action film, but one with heart, character, and dramatic weight. This all comes to us from Deran Sarafian, the director of Death Warrant, and screenwriter Stephen Sommers, who would go on to director Deep Rising, The Mummy, and various other fun big action movies. This seems to be a really good pairing. Sommers’ writing creates a fun concept with strong characters and his signature dashes of fun and humor. Sarafian grounds the movie with a real grit which mixes serious consequence with a thrilling ride. He makes it a harder edged action movie than Sommers typically would make, and that style perfectly works for this film. Plus, I like that the film hits the ground running dropping us into events already in motion as everyone is already on the trail of Dani and the money. That rhythm and tempo remains constant throughout the film propelling every event forward briskly. There’s very little slowing down in Gunmen, and because of that, these filmmakers are able to tightly pack a lot of exciting content into the 90 minute runtime.
I also really like that this film is a bunch of criminals, mercenaries, thieves, and bounty hunters running amuck. There’s not a law enforcement presence anywhere at all. Lots of betrayals, distrust, and personal agendas twist the plot around making it fun and interesting. This keeps every character on their toes, and allows for some spontaneous moments of drama and humor to occur that just add to the fun factor. At its core, Gunmen is a buddy action film headed up by an incredibly perfectly pair of actors who give it vibrant life.
Frankly, any movie where Christopher Lambert is having a good time is a winner for me just on entertainment value alone. His character of Dani Servigo is full of laughs all the way. Where Mario Van Peebles is the straight arrow and dramatic anchor of the duo, Lambert is the comedy, but is not farcical. These two have excellent chemistry together, and Van Peebles is able to get his fair share of humor into the mix. Once they spark off that chemistry, the film becomes more and more fun. The banter between them made me laugh so much. It’s a real delight. And Van Peebles really shows a lot of worth leading this film with a strong weight, charisma, and edge. Cole Parker is a definite tough bounty hunter able to hold his own against anyone, and is portrayed as a very smart, sharp, and cunning professional. Yet, while there’s a lot of fun, Gunmen still finds those quiet moments of character building and heart-to-heart scenes to maintain substance. Cole and Dani solidly bond together, but they still have their fun adversarial moments such as Dani shooting Cole in the leg to keep him from running off with the money and Cole later returning the favor to sharp, clever comic effect.
I severely love Denis Leary. He is a great comedian, but he has always impressed me with his dramatic work. I especially love his turns in Judgment Night and Suicide Kings, and here, he plays vicious bastard immensely effectively. Leary’s cynical humor is perfectly molded into an edgy, charismatic, sadistic, and bad ass villain. Armor O’Malley is a perfect mercenary out for himself, and willing to double-cross anyone for his own betterment. Leary’s sarcastic charisma fuels the performance and makes Armor an entertaining enemy all the way through.
Patrick Stewart’s role as Loomis is not expansive, but by no doubt, is solidly portrayed. You see this feeble man in body and mind ordering around Armor and his hired guns, and you can perceive someone who once had a strength and authority to him. However, age and circumstance have diminished him, and his sad double-cross departure in the film seems only inevitable. With Stewart in this role, it certainly adds a special notoriety to the character which elevates Loomis’ importance in the plot.
Lambert, Van Peebles, and Leary, along with many of their supporting co-stars, prove to be very action capable actors. As the title suggests, there is a very generous amount of intense gunplay and shootouts packed into the film, but there’s plenty of physicality and stunt work to behold. There’s loads of excitement throughout especially when helicopters are involved. That tight pace I mentioned before completely adds to the exciting momentum of the action. It just keeps on coming allowing for very little time to slow down, but it does have it s well timed breaths between the blazing thrills. The climax has everyone in a sort of cat-and-mouse game aboard a luxury motor boat, and it is very cleverly and sharply executed. I love how this is all shot keeping this a little shadowy to give the sequence some visual edge. Overall, the film is really damn well shot in the cinemascope anamorphic format from the director of photography of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. The quality of the cinematography really enhances every fun, thrilling moment of Gunmen.
I also really enjoyed the score by John Debney. Since the film is set in South America, we get some Latin flavor in the music that blends in beautifully with Spanish guitars and percussion. The action scenes have some very good and original driving beats which hold to that musical style. It’s really a wonderful piece of work from the man who would later score Sudden Death, Sin City, Predators, and Iron Man 2. This film also incorporates a lot of early-to-mid 90’s hip hop / rap music very well. It’s surely not my genre of music, but they are all very good songs which aid the vibe the film is going for. After all these years, the opening title track of “Bite The Bullet” by Kid Frost has stuck firmly in my mind, and I think that says quite a lot.
I honestly think I enjoyed Gunmen more now than I did years ago. It really is a solid, fun, enjoyable action movie with a fully charismatic cast that doesn’t disappoint. There’s near wall-to-wall action with a full helping of laughter between Lambert and Van Peebles’ superb chemistry. There are only a few films that really exemplify my preferred style of 1990’s action films, and this is definitely one of them. Really tight pacing with a grounded sensibility that still has its tone opened up for great fun. The film doesn’t get cheesy or diminish the grit of its action by adding in those humorous elements. It all works very cohesively for a well-rounded piece of entertainment. This is just a movie of pure enjoyment right from the start and it only builds as it progresses. While Gunmen got the shaft on DVD in the United States as a pan-and-scan edition, I was very pleased to find it on iTunes in its proper widescreen format for purchase or rental in standard or high definition. If you’re looking for a really solidly made action film with intense excitement and a lot of laughs, you really cannot go wrong with Gunmen. I give it a very strong recommendation.
So, this is the last film in my Thomas Ian Griffith triple feature, and it’s odd that in each successive movie his hair gets shorter and shorter. Also, each of these films have some very impressive names attached to the cast. This time, we’ve got John Lithgow and Donald Sutherland, so, there’s certainly talent on screen worth watching. Hollow Point sees Griffith going pretty crazy with a full charge of charisma in a film I wasn’t expecting to be what it was. Let’s see what it is that it happened to be.
FBI Agent Diane Norwood (Tia Carrere) is ready to do almost anything, even to spoil her own wedding, in order to bring down Livingston (John Lithgow), a major money launderer. In the course of her dogged investigation she runs into the audacious DEA Agent Max Parish (Thomas Ian Griffith) who also wants Livingston. After the two of them reluctantly join forces, they track down Garret Lawton (Donald Sutherland), one of Livingston’s disgruntled hitmen, to help bring him down.
After the conspiracy cop thriller and the Die Hard clone from Griffith, we now get something that tonally veers off in a wild direction. I went into this expecting a fairly serious action movie, but right in the first fifteen minutes, you’ve both Griffith and Sutherland being all kinds of off-the-wall crazy. A Russian Mafioso is smuggled around town, after slipping back into the country, in a casket, and the Max Parish character hijacks his hearse in an effort to interrogate him. In a chase down a stairwell after this, Sutherland’s assassin character Lawton practically cackles and prances around like a nutjob chased by Agent Norwood while Parish rides a window washer’s harness down spouting out jokes. I was laughing my ass off. This is all just plain nuts based solely on Griffith and Sutherland, and this is them just getting warmed up. This is a movie that just knows how to have fun with itself, and I was happy to indulge in it.
Hollow Point ultimately is a buddy cop movie where, absolutely, neither Parish nor Norwood like each other in the least. They are adversarial to the point of sabotaging one another until they reluctantly agree to work together, but even then, they continually butt heads for many reasons. Parish is practically certifiably nuts doing nothing but unorthodox stunts every step of the way, and Norwood feels very dedicated and straight arrow, up to a point. So, it is the classic personality clash dynamic which stirs up friction and entertainment value. Hollow Point is, by very far, no Lethal Weapon, but it’s certainly a whole lot of fun.
As I already touched upon, Thomas Ian Griffith really cuts loose with all of his charisma. Max Parish is ultimately a guy working outside the bounds of the law to his own ends, and so, he’s going for broke at every turn. Thus, he’s greatly unpredictable and spontaneous which facilitates Griffith to throw everything into this performance to make it endlessly fun and exciting. There’s very little opportunity for drama to seep into the Max Parish character as the film really drives for the fun and laughs, but there are a few light, fleeting moments of seriousness that he slips in and out of smoothly.
Yet, as crazy as Griffith is here, Donald Sutherland is full blown whacky. There is not a scene where he isn’t grinning like he’s gotten a snout full of Nitrous Oxide, and just being the nuttiest hitman you’ve ever seen. Sutherland was clearly having an incredibly fun time playing this role with all the eccentricities and flare possible. The flipside of that is John Lithgow doing a fairy straight villain performance, but it’s rather middle of the road. He has lightly humorous moments along with grounded serious ones. After seeing him in both Cliffhanger and Ricochet, I know he can do bad ass bad guy wickedly, but this outing here is nothing special, yet I was glad to have him there. He made the character more interesting and entertaining just by him being in it, and goes the extra mile in the climax.
As you might expect, Tia Carrere is not the most convincing tough federal agent. She certainly plays the role to the best of her ability, and is competent in all the action scenes. However, despite her best efforts, I couldn’t be fully sold on the casting choice. The Diane Norwood role was better suited for someone with more inherent toughness, charisma, and savvy. Sandwiched in between Griffith and Sutherland chewing up scenery with full-tilt vibrancy, Carrere doesn’t really standout at all. She has some decent moments that gain her some credibility, though. Plus, she and Griffith have pretty good chemistry, and she handles the humorous moments sufficiently. I just think there was a stronger casting choice available somewhere for this character, but Carrere’s sex appeal is mildly on display, answering some of the questions of why she was chosen.
The story here is almost unimportant as most of the screentime is really devoted to the buddy cop style antics of Parish, Norwood, and Lawton. Lots of banter, silly moments, and mild scheming to plot against Livingston is all that’s really at play here. Some people want his money for their own gain, and someone else just wants to see him locked up in a jail cell. The movie does not intend to engage you with its story, and rightfully so. Hollow Point is all about its crazy personalities, fun action, and humorous tone.
Even the editing of this movie, with all of its cheesy wipes, goes for the comedy aesthetic, and ultimately, that’s the way you need to take this movie. It doesn’t really push for dramatic storytelling or really intense thrills. It is designed to just have fun with it, and that’s not a surprise from the director of The Taking of Beverly Hills, another B-movie Die Hard clone. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t good action and plenty of explosions. Griffith doesn’t get more than two brief moments of martial arts action as it’s all gunplay and car chases, but the action has some very good production values. The climax really gives you a solid bang for your buck with a lot of fun scenarios, action-packed sequences, and a slightly quirky four-persona standoff. Of the Thomas Ian Griffith movies I’ve now reviewed here with Excessive Force and Crackerjack, this one is the most lively fun, but also, the stupidest of the lot in all the best ways.
Hollow Point just ends up being purely dumb fun that you might enjoy on cable some night. It’s good to have some laughs with and just enjoy the light-hearted action. By no means would this have been a box office success, but it’s perfect direct-to-video entertainment. Since this tightly focused look at Thomas Ian Griffith’s has been about assessing his action star potential, I think the only thing that kept him below the radar and mostly in the direct-to-video world was the quality of the scripts. It would seem like, even with the screenplay he did for Excessive Force, there wasn’t anything strong enough to jump out and grab attention. He also didn’t work with especially talented directors. Van Damme worked with Peter Hyams and John Woo, Steven Seagal worked with Andrew Davis and Dwight Little, Bruce Willis had John McTiernan, Renny Harlin, and Tony Scott, and the list goes on. Griffith got the director of Superman IV: The Quest For Peace and Iron Eagle I, II, & IV. He undoubtedly had every talent needed to be that breakout action movie star with the great martial arts skills, the acting ability to do straight, dimensional drama, charismatic wit, and really light-hearted humor. He had it all, but no one ever paired him up with the right filmmakers to encapsulate all of his potential in one explosive hit. As for Hollow Point, it’s certainly not a good movie, but it entertained me greatly with plenty of laughs. However, I’m eager to get back to reviewing some theatrically released action films.
Yep, I could make a whole month out of reviewing Die Hard clones before even getting around to reviewing Die Hard. Seagal, Van Damme, Snipes, Ford, and every other action star under the sun got their turn to grapple with this formula. So, Thomas Ian Griffith got his chance as Detective Jack Wild in this film that spawned two sequels, neither of which starred Griffith, but let’s see how Crackerjack stacks up to the competition.
Chicago cop Jack Wild (Thomas Ian Griffith) reluctantly aggress to join his brother’s family for a vacation at the exclusive Panorama Springs Hotel, high in the glacier-capped Rocky Mountains. But when a team of mercenaries determined to hijack over $50 million in diamonds descend on the resort, Jack strikes back. Now, together with beautiful hotel guide K.C. (Nastassja Kinski), Jack must race against the clock to stop their calculating leader Ivan Getz (Christopher Plummer) from getting away and exploding the glacier above the hotel to cover his tracks.
The burnt out cop is a very familiar trope in action movies, but if you get an actor who can really flesh out the character, it all works nicely. Thomas Ian Griffith again proves his quality as an actor showing Detective Wild to be relatable and interesting. Being a bit unhinged, he charges headlong into danger as if he does have nothing to lose, and that’s how he feels after his wife and kids were killed. When he’s dragged up to the ski resort, he’s restless and still potentially volatile, but after making a connection with Katia, you see him soften and begin to turn a corner. Griffith and Nastassja Kinski have some good, touching chemistry that translates really well on screen. The charisma he naturally brings into the film really enhances the clichéd material in the script, and makes Wild a dimensional and enjoyable character to follow.
The film really does a lot to build up the emotional investment in Jack Wild’s fractured situation. The flashbacks to the last moments of his family’s life are touching, and director Michael Mazo really takes the time for those emotions to sink in. The reveal of who actually killed his family is a rather unneeded additional motivation for Wild, but I’m hardly going to hold that against the movie. It’s not striving for fresh, original ideas as there is much lifted directly from Die Hard from the basic premise to very similar bits of dialogue, Getz’ right hand mercenary looking like a carbon copy of Karl, Getz threatening to kill an innocent man to motivate Wild to return the diamonds, and him planning to wipe out all the witnesses with a cataclysmic explosion. However, the filmmakers still manage to make this a very fun and entertaining ride despite how by-the-numbers and uninspired this script is. Much of this is due to some impressive action scenes, and the villain that we are given here.
I love Christopher Plummer. He’s an absolutely tremendous actor in so many compelling roles, but you know what? I think every serious, respectable actor deserves to take on a nicely cheesy villain role at least once. As Ivan Getz, I think he just eats up the fun quality of the role, and does make for an intimidating adversary even if so much is clearly lifted from Alan Richman’s Hans Gruber. The rather stereotypical German accent is the most obvious evidence, but it adds to the film’s B-movie charm. Getz separates himself from Gruber, though, by being a bit of a megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur akin to the Third Reich. It allows Plummer to have some intriguing monologues that kind of gives you flashbacks to him as General Chang in Star Trek VI, and that’s generally not a bad thing. Plummer and Griffith have some solid exchanges that build up the personal adversarial connection, mostly done over a two-way radio, and it’s enough fuel to keep the movie going at its consistent, good pace.
Crackerjack is indeed action packed, but features far more gunplay than Griffith’s martial arts skills, much like Van Damme in Sudden Death. However, this is still plenty exciting with big, explosive moments and fun thrills up and down this high altitude adventure. Despite being a direct-to-video feature, the action set pieces are quite impressive, especially when the helicopters blow up, and the finale has some really good miniature effects. For its time, this was a quite admirable action picture, but I would expect modern audiences to be left wanting more spectacle.
Now, if there’s one thing that makes Crackerjack feel distinctly direct-to-video it’s the synthesizer score. Absolutely, a completely synth based score can be excellent. I’m a Jan Hammer Miami Vice fan after all, but there’s a difference when you have a score that is primarily composed for an orchestral arrangement but is performed on a keyboard. After a while, it got to be almost distracting because I kept feeling like I was watching something from Full Moon Features like Subspecies. The score just sounds cheap in this context, and really detracts from the otherwise high production values here. If this score had been given an orchestral treatment, it would have been perfectly fine. There are times when the score works very well, but the obvious limitations do regularly show through.
You could maybe say the same for the cinematography as it is fairly point and shoot with very little in the way of special cinematic visuals. There’s nothing along the lines of crane shots, intriguing angles, or steadicam work, but compared to a lot of shaky cam action films today, I can find that more minimalist approach to be enjoyable. The action scenes are very competently shot, and you’re never confused as to what’s happening. The editing is conservative allowing the action to drive the cuts, and not forcing kinetic excitement by cutting to another shot every split second. Fast tempo editing definitely has its gold standards, but I do enjoy seeing a time when filmmakers did take their time to just allow the action to play out with more comfortable framing and stable camera work.
Crackerjack certainly doesn’t have the budgetary muscle to compete on the scale of its theatrical brethren, but I would say it’s good action B-movie indulgence. Griffith does a very good job in this role making him both an emotionally damaged man, but also a sleek, sharp, and savvy action hero. He brings his natural charisma into the mix to make Jack Wild a really enjoyable protagonist to follow through this perilous adventure. Again, if I’m examining this small window into his career, I can’t say that this could’ve been a breakout film even if it did have a theatrical release budget. The script is very derivative of possibly the best action movie ever made, aiming entirely for the low budget fare, and doesn’t inject anything fresh into the formula. You can definitely get entertainment value out of the film’s fairly well used clichés and the fun performances. If you need any further convincing, you can check out the very funny video that introduced me to this movie courtesy of TheCinemaSnob.com.
In the 1990’s, there were a lot of action movie stars popping up, but most didn’t have what it took to break out of the direct-to-video market. However, I think Thomas Ian Griffith really had the talents to make it, but never really did. This might be a simple fact of not having a breakout film or role like Steven Seagal or Van Damme had early on. Regardless, Griffith had two vital qualities of a successful action hero in the 90’s. First off, he was trained in Kenpo Karate and Tae Kwon Do, so, he could do far more than just shoot things up. Secondly, he had charisma to spare making for some fun, lively performances. All of this could be seen as the villain in The Karate Kid, Part III, of which he was the best thing about that movie. So, I want to explore some of Griffith’s action films and find out exactly what he had to offer. With Excessive Force, Griffith is supported by such solid actors as Lance Henriksen, James Earl Jones, Tony Todd, and Burt Young for something that looks very solid, but let’s see if it really holds up to that appearance.
When $3 million disappears during a drug bust, undercover Chicago cop Terry McCain (Griffith) is pitted against Sal DiMarco (Burt Young), a sadistic mob boss who will do anything to get his money back, and a conspiracy of corruption from within the police department. After McCain’s partner is brutally murdered and his ex-wife is threatened, he strikes back the only way he knows how – with force! Framed for a murder he didn’t commit and hunted by his own friends on the force, McCain finds refuge with his old pal Jake (James Earl Jones) and his ex-wife Anna (Charlotte Lewis) as he’s lead into a desperate showdown with dangerous forces.
This movie has a fairly straight forward plot with only a few clever turns, but it’s not intended to be a wickedly twisting and turning crime thriller. It starts out as a revenge movie, but then, shifts into a web of deceit as McCain goes on the run once people start gunning for him. The script by Thomas Ian Griffith really makes good use of Chicago to this effect. He really incorporates the crooked politics and mobbed up history of it in a couple of smart ways. There are corrupt cops and deceptive allegiances at play in this story, and it really feels like authentic Chicago organized crime. The story twists around enough to where Terry doesn’t know who he can trust, and thus, he feels betrayed by every friend he has left living. It’s never a very taut sort of plot thread that forces McCain into heavy paranoia, but its place in the story is dealt with quite well and where it’s most effective. It also has some good pay-off and turnarounds at the end.
Thomas Ian Griffith leads this film very solidly. Having wrote the script himself, the more personal depth of his performance is apparent. Early on, we see the driven, charismatic, and lively cop who can kick ass with the best of them. He sets the energy for the film from the start, and continues to keep it exciting and interesting. As events progress, we see the drama and emotion sink into Terry McCain with plenty of weight that propels him forward through the film. Griffith has great chemistry with everyone especially Charlotte Lewis, Tony Todd as a fellow cop Frankie Hawkins, and Lance Henriksen as the soon-to-be Police Chief Devlin. Terry and Anna gradually reconnect and spark off some steam later on, but it’s very brief. Surely, a hot, erotic sex scene would be gratuitous, but I would not have complained if they injected some of that.
And of course, Griffith delivers on the action. I was really impressed with the martial arts moves he employed, mainly the number of high and roundhouse kicks he dished out. He really kicks some guys silly, and bashes up a lot of heads on a regular basis. While its not as intense as what Seagal was doing at the time, Griffith has his moments of bone breaking bad assery. If there’s any one shortcoming is that there’s no adversary that’s a real physical challenge for him, and so, there’s not a great single fight that stands out. Regardless, the action scenes are all very competently shot, choreographed, edited, and solidly executed overall.
Burt Young is pretty impressive as a ruthless Mafioso. He’s bluntly violent killing someone with a pencil through the ear, and having peoples’ legs bashed in with a baseball bat. He’s quite convincing with the balancing of the supposed sophisticated businessman and the merciless big crime boss. However, his screentime is shorter than you’d expect, but it leads to more interesting plotlines.
Also, the role of the police commander can often fall into clichéd territory, but thankfully, Lance Henriksen does a very subtle, understated job with Devlin. While he and McCain aren’t the best of friends, they can have respect despite their friction, and it’s really that relationship which gives Henriksen something fresh to work with. I also especially like the turn he has about halfway through as he becomes a bit more sleazy and brazen. As he gets deeper into this character, Henriksen gets more and more awesome.
I dearly love Tony Todd. Many know him as the horror icon Candyman, but he has such a wide range of talent that he also excellently displays here. He has one great scene in this film of emotional depth and strain which really sets him apart as a special, standout actor. A lot of other actors wouldn’t have put as much real heart and passions into such a small supporting role, but Todd does nothing less than superb work in everything he does.
These characters are interwoven into this decently forged conspiracy effectively. There’s a surprise or two to be had, and the characters themselves are fleshed out by the performances even if the dimension isn’t written on the page. A really good actor can always add and enhance what’s written in the script into something special or at least entertaining. I’ve seen enough standard fare action movies where lackluster performances make the film nothing but mediocre. Yet, vibrant and solid ones can make all the difference, and that’s certainly the case here. Like I said, when I saw the cast list I was impressed and intrigued if that acting quality would show through, and I think it really, really did.
The score of this movie was surprisingly done by Charles Bernstein, who I’ve only known from A Nightmare On Elm Street. His work here is distinctly early 90’s action, but he mixes in enough dramatic cues and moments of tension in certain scenes to give it some personality. James Earl Jones’ character of Jake runs a jazz club, and so, we get some smooth, lively sounds out of that early on. Bernstein’s score surely isn’t going to stun and amaze you, but it does its job very, very well. I would suppose that’s a good summation of the whole movie.
Excessive Force is not a great action movie, but it’s a really good effort that I did like. The script is well written, and very well directed by Jon Hess, but it’s really the exceptional acting talents of its admirable cast that allows this movie to be as good as it is. If filled with lesser grade talents, this would really falter, but putting guys like Griffith, Henriksen, Todd, Jones, and more into it gives it some extra substance. Each of them really put a real dedicated effort into their roles, and it made the film enjoyable outside of the nicely put together action scenes, of which Excessive Force does have a nice even helping of. Something exciting does happen about every ten to fifteen minutes, but the pace overall is quite consistent and well balanced to make it feel natural. There’s never action just for the sake of action. It all flows from the slightly twisting story, and Griffith’s athletic talents really make it all work. He certainly shows a lot of potential here in all aspects, and he’s a really fun, exciting lead. While Excessive Force doesn’t have the makings of a blockbuster success, I think it deserved better than grossing less than half its $3 million budget at the box office. It’s not a big explosive thrill ride, but it’s quite an enjoyable piece of low budget action fare.