70s cinema was at its absolute best when it birthed softly nihilistic, introspective films where the protagonist lived within moral ambiguity and hard shades of grey – wherein this picture, Gene Hackman gives his finest, most low-key performance as a former football player turned private investigator who takes on a case of a missing girl that lands him in Florida from LA, and uncovers a well-layered and richly defined plot of smuggling, lies, and deception all the while discovering who he really is, as well as the world around him.
With a taut script from Alan Sharp, a groovy score by Michael Small, director Arthur Penn crafts a remarkably quiet film; which plays more like a documentary where the camera just follows Hackman through his journey, all scenes from the film are of Hackman’s point of view, and there are not any overt, showy set-pieces or flash edits, popular music; the film just lives.
Sharp’s screenplay, coupled with Penn’s vision and the actors performing his written words, is perfect. There are so many memorable lines of dialogue that have staying power, so much of the characters are revealed through the brief, yet potent, exchanges. This truly is a masterclass in writing.
A lot can be said for Hackman, being one of the longstanding true craftsmen of his profession; being one of the finest actors to ever grace the screen. In this picture, he is noticeably muted and brings a striking weariness to the role, he is not the self-righteous and volatile Hackman, he is just here to observe, and internalize his emotions. He gives a remarkably raw performance that is more about self-discovery than anything.
Harris Yulin, Jennifer Warren, Edwards Binns, Kenneth Mars, Janet Ward, John Crawford, Susan Clark, James Woods, and Melanie Griffith round up the supporting cast, and Hackman plays off of each one magnificently. The characters in the film are very real, as are their homes, places of work and so on. There is a deep-seated reality to the film, where it doesn’t take place in the movie world, it takes place in reality.
The film’s narrative is remarkable, not only with the overall detective storyline, but also with how defined Hackman’s character and life is; and how his two worlds begin to blend together; where he is just not solving the case, but also solving who he is as well.
NIGHT MOVES is a film that came out at the right time, the mid-70s, while everything was in flux, and people were just trying to understand how to be in the world. In actuality, the film is timeless with its themes, making an excellent time capsule of a picture that came from an era of film, that is so universally well regarded. 70s cinema might just be the best decade of American cinema, and NIGHT MOVES is one of the best films to come from that time and place.
There was no other artist on the planet like Tony Scott. Behind that epic cigar and under that iconic sun bleached pink cap there resided an intense desire to blast celluloid with a distinct visual aesthetic and brand cinema forever with pictures that exploded out of the mould, caught the projector on fire and often inspired quite divisive reactions. Why have one steadicam stationed at a traditional angle when you can have multiple cameras on all kinds of rigs panning, gliding and pirouetting all over the place? Why use generic colour timing templates when you can saturate the absolute fuck out of every frame, sprinkle in the grain and turn up the yellows until you scorch your irises? Why employ pedestrian editing when you can zip, zoom, use jagged swaths of movement, arbitrary subtitles and hurtling fast motion to tell your story? Tony has a huge bag of tricks that was constantly evolving over the course of his career, and for anybody who could both catch up to him and appreciate the aesthetic he left us a wealth of cinematic treasure behind after his tragic and untimely death. These are my top ten personal favourite of his films!
10. The Hire: Beat The Devil
This is one in many short films sponsored by BMW, all featuring Clive Owen as a 007-esque getaway driver for hire at the wheel of a Beamer. Scott’s entry definitely leads the pack though, get this: The legendary James Brown (James Brown playing himself) has made a deal with The Devil (Gary Oldman) for fame and fortune and now that old age has struck he wishes to renegotiate. How to settle matters? Brown and Owen in the Beamer race Devil and his trusty butler/driver (Danny freakin Trejo) along the Vegas strip at sunrise. Oh yeah and Marilyn Manson makes a hysterical cameo too. It’s a balls out fucking freaky wild ride with Oldman making scary, flamboyant work of ol’ scratch and Scott amping up the stylistics to near excess. Favourite scene: that Manson cameo, man. So funny.
9. Spy Game
Robert Redford and Brad Pitt headline this highly kinetic tale of espionage, mentorship, loyalty and resilience while Tony fires up what little action there is terrifically. It’s interesting because this isn’t an action film, it’s got depth and personality, the visual tone serving the affecting central relationship well. Favourite scene: Brad and Robert argue morality atop a Berlin apartment rooftop, Brad loses his cool and whips a chair off the edge as Scott’s cameras dutifully circle them like restless seagulls.
8. The Last Boy Scout
A tumultuous production ultimately led to the first in the ‘unofficial L.A. Noir buddy action comedy trilogy’ written Shane Black, to be followed up years later with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys. Tony lends his sun soaked grunge to this tale of an ex football pro (Damon Wayans) and a disgraced Secret service agent turned PI (Bruce Willis) navigating a dangerous underworld conspiracy while trying to put up with each other. This is one hilarious, high powered ride with super nasty villains, a terrific supporting turn from Danielle Harris as Willis’s rebellious daughter and a playfully sadistic streak to the intrigue. Favourite scene: the shocking opening sequence set during a rain soaked NFL game gives new meaning to going the extra mile for that touchdown and sets the gritty, sarcastic tone well.
This exciting riff on the runaway train shtick sees railway workers Denzel Washington and Chris Pine try and prevent a renegade unmanned locomotive from crashing in a densely populated area, causing cataclysm. Tony keeps the pulses racing and the action almost literally nonstop in his final film before passing. Favourite scene: the hair raising climax.
6. Crimson Tide
Denzel again! He goes head to head with Gene Hackman in this explosive submarine picture with uncredited writing from Quentin Tarantino and fantastic supporting work from James Gandolfini, Viggo Mortensen and others. Tony loved wide, expansive settings to play in but he works just as terrifically in a confined space here, letting the energy reaching a boiling point. Favourite scene: a fierce verbal battle of wills between Hackman and Washington over a tense mess hall dinner.
5. Déjà Vu
Time travel gets a twist in this trippy, exciting and surprisingly emotional tale of one ATF agent (who else but Denzel??) using a state of the art SciFi technique to take down a dangerous terrorist (Jim Caviesel). Scott uses many elements played both backwards and forwards to keep interests locked and please the crowd. Favourite scene: When all is said and done Washington shares a final moment with a witness (Paula Patton) that calls back to earlier moments of the film and caps this story off nicely.
4. Enemy Of The State
Chase thriller, espionage intrigue, mob war-games, Gene Hackman basically reprising his role from Coppola’s The Conversation, a trademark Mexican stand-off shootout, this prophetic, endlessly exciting film has it all. Will Smith and Hackman team up awesomely in this fast paced, prescient, frequently scary and rousing thriller that has a cast you won’t believe, some showcase explosions and enough excitement to go round.
3. Man On Fire
Denzel Washington’s Creasy is the titular incendiary avenger in this south of the border tale of revenge, kidnapping, redemption, cruelty and corruption. It’s a startling film and the first one that felt like Scott’s specific calling card style had been fully formed and delivered to us in a package that many (including those pesky critics) weren’t ready for. Grainy, choppy, putting us right in the passenger seat with Creasy and his sketchy frame of mind, this one is a master stroke of filmmaking.
2. True Romance
This would be first on the list if it were a singularly ‘Tony’ film but it’s just as much Quentin Tarantino’s show and as such is kind of a two man dance, not to mention the legendary ensemble cast. Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette are an early 90’s Bonnie & Clyde on the run from just about every nasty villain you could think of in this cult classic that just gets better every time you watch it (I’m well over a hundred views myself).
This just has to be Tony’s masterpiece, and he crafts it without compromise or apology. With a framework loosely based on real life bounty hunter Domino Harvey, he boldly hurtles towards the asphalt horizon with this hyperactive, unique, mescaline soaked, badass adrenaline rush that is an experience like no other. Critics pissed on it but fuck them, it’s a gem, really, a visual and auditory juggernaut that doesn’t just light up your TV screen but pretty much makes a break for your circulatory system and bounces around your veins for two hours. This is the one I’ll always remember Scott for.
Right off the bat, I like pictures that make you think. Nicholas Meyer once said that movies have the dreadful propensity of doing it all for you, leaving nothing for later like some greedy kid turned loose in a chocolate factory. In the era where everything old is new again – dusted off, repackaged and marketed to an audience for whom, the first time it was released, isn’t a part of their lexicon – it falls upon us to turn to those filmmakers working outside the mainstream; the place where stories that entertain, provoke thought, and evoke the magnitude of the how insurmountable power and the forces that wield it engulf us…constant willing victims that we are.
Though Rene Perez(as he once told me) might be near the bottom of the barrel when it comes to cinematic voices in the tempest that is the modern day film industry, to me, he is a tirelessly, self-sufficient auteur. His pictures – while made for the VOD market (not unlike the VHS boom before it) and designed for the casual scroller in search of an evening’s mild amusement – are more than mere formulaic forays in genre.
With The Insurrection, Perez comes out with all guns blazing, literally, but with the timeliness and the gravitas of the message he is projecting. Michael Paré(Eddie and The Cruisers, The Philadelphia Experiment) is a military veteran. Strong, determined, and not afraid to stand tall in the crossfire, yet burdened by regret for the life and family he neglected while serving in the line of duty. This makes him the ideal candidate as well as the only choice, and hope, for the magnetic Wilma Elles’(Playing with Dolls: Havoc, The Fourth Horseman) Joan Schafer. More than your garden-variety whistle-blower, she is a part of the grand plan, a loyal servant of the ‘Ruling Class’. After securing Paré’s release from prison, Joan tasks the warhorse to keep her alive long enough to tell all – not just of her own private torment, but primarily of a plan that began long ago…to make slaves of us all. And it is for these bold words – how we are but pawns for the powerful, the hungry masses that heartily sup upon the most potent of elixirs supplied by the small glowing screens we carry in our pocket – that she is now targeted for termination by her former overseers. The first casualty, when war comes, is truth, and because of this truth…she must not be allowed to live.
Schafer’s truth also encompasses the concept that we, the controlled masses, are victims of the promise, the carrot, dangled by the influential. She presents the fact that, no matter the microcosm of society in which we dwell, whether it be the real world or the one manufactured on that luminous rectangle that hangs before us in the darkened movie theatre – whether it be Romero’sLand of the Dead, Anderson’sLogan’s Run or Rodriguez’sAlita: Battle Angel – the promise our own ivory tower, our place among the Gods, is far too alluring a bait…as opposed to love, family…life’s simple wonders.
As parallel duels of words and weapons rage, you will be equally gripped the story unfolding as you will by Perez’s dynamic camera and fluid editing. These combine, serving as an absorbing delivery system for a tale of the price those who choose to stand alone against the rising tide of the media-saturated, cynical world that consumes us, ultimately pay. Paré’s steely gladiator projects authority through his silence; a strong accompanist to Elles’ articulate argument relating to how easy it has been, and how easy it still is, for the mighty to suppress any and all beneath them.
It is a thought-provoking work of intensity and depth that we have before us with The Insurrection. In the tradition of action-thrillers like Peter Hyams’Narrow Marginand Harold Becker’sMercy Rising, Perez and his team bring us a splendid declaration of the courage it takes to fight for freedoms we, all too frequently, take for granted.
Dolly Parton once said, “If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.” I like to muse that this was going through the mind of my distinguished guest and Ozploitation luminary, Hugh Keays-Byrne. And my reason behind this thinking – even though, for all intents and purposes, the characters he has brought to our screens for decades have been seen as pure, cold-hearted villains – turns out, we’ve all been wrong.
Toad (Stone), William Whopper (Secret Valley), Toecutter (Mad Max), and the divine one, all shiny and chrome, Immortan Joe (Mad Max: Fury Road) are not the boogeymen society would have you believe. No folks, they are progressives, forward-thinkers. They see the big picture, they are thinking about future generations, not the pesky problems of the current cloud of mayhem.
But let’s face it people – bad dudes are more fun. And our Hugh is one of cinema history’s ultimate bad (though secretly underappreciated visionary with people’s best interests in mind) dude. Born the same year, in fact two days before my Dad, in India, Hugh returned the homeland of his parents, England, where he not only completed his education but also found his way into The Royal Shakespeare Company, and it was in one of their productions that he found his way here, to the great southern land – and here he stayed.
Continuing as he had also been in Britain, prior to his Shakespearean exodus, he appeared on local television productions till along came the ultimate auteur-ozploitation picture in the form of Sandy Harbutt’s STONE. Keays-Byrne would transform into the iconic Toad. But ladies and boys, this filmography is a little bit like a classic rock radio station, because the hits, just keep on coming. He shared a cab ride and a request for narcotics with the Easy Rider, he’s tasted THE BLOOD OF HEROES (while saluting the Juggers), he’s shared the landscape with FARSCAPE and very nearly was the Martian Manhunter for Dr. George’s Justice League. Sure, sure. It might have been groovy. But he will be remembered in the halls of Valhalla as the electrifying good guy of Miller’s indelible imprint on the art of the motion picture when he became the Toecutter in a little movie headlined by a guy named Mel.
Recently, Mad Max: Fury Road has back in popular discussion. It is topping lists as one, if not the penultimate action film OF ALL TIME! That’s right, I said ALL TIME. Now – these may be mere lists on the internet – no shortage of those right – but truth be told, Miller literally, all these years after THE ROAD WARRIOR (or Mad Max 2, as we like to call it), has reignited the same fire that he started way back when. Fury Road is as much a cultural monolith as it is action-film opus.
It has been a long time between lunches here in my little corner of cinematic nirvana. Last time I had lunch it was with The Equalizer himself, (and another Aussie cinema legend) Richard Norton. So, it is with great pride that I get to enjoy another lunch break with you dear PTS listeners – lunch with the merciful and compassionate Immortan Joe…
The title Twilight obviously brings up bad memories of a franchise we’d all like to forget, but before that abomination ever entered the fold, the moniker belonged to a laconic, brightly lit yet darkly intoned LA film noir starring Paul Newman as an aging Hollywood private investigator. He’s a guy who was was never famous himself but seemingly behind the scenes of stardom and scandal and making a career out of it until his golden years find him living on the lavish estate of a fading starlet (Susan Sarandon) and her husband (Gene Hackman), also an actor of former stature. He’s always been in love with her but is also Hackman’s good buddy and it makes for a love triangle that is never too tense or melodramatic, but just as uncomfortable as it needs to be. He sort of serves as their homefront security officer and sorta just spies on Sarandon languishing by the pool and you can tell that the three of them are just mournful ghosts of what they probably were decades ago, haunting their surroundings like echoes rather than living in them.
Things get heavy for them once again when Newman takes on a shady job that involves delivering blackmail money, a situation that quickly snowballs into deceit, old wounds torn open and, of course, murder most foul. Something nasty is going on that dates years back into the collective past of these three individuals and has come back to bite them all squarely on the ass, and although it might not be the most innovative mystery narrative and certainly aspects are predictable, it’s just so much fun watching these master actors play it out in sunny Hollywood enclaves. Speaking of old pros, James Garner has a nice supporting role as an ex cop pal of Newman’s who helps him out with intel and backup. Watch for early career work from Liev Schreiber, who now stars on Showtime’s Ray Donovan, another LA noir story that I’m almost positive drew inspiration from this film. A very young and very naked Reese Witherspoon also shows up briefly, as well as Stockard Channing, Margo Martindale, Giancarlo Esposito, Jason Clarke, John Spencer, Clint Howard and M. Emmett Walsh. Newman is terrific here in one of his older dude roles, his blue eyes lend just a hint of optimism to the downbeat noir archetype. Hackman and Sarandon say a lot with little dialogue and plenty of body language, embodying damaged souls with grace and grizzle.
I recently heard a character in Amazon’s Goliath (yet another LA noir- can you tell I’ve cultivated a fixation on the sub genre?) say that murders in LA and Hollywood are especially tricky to solve because anybody could know anybody or be connected to anything. That gives ample freedom to intertwine characters and set up strange encounters or resolutions to plot, which is always fun and evident here too. It’s a slow, sunny burn of a crime flick that isn’t designed to be particularly flashy or lurid, but unfolds at its own pace alongside Newman & Co. Good stuff.
A father/daughter courtroom drama starring Gene Hackman sounds like a recipe for something glossy, showboating and melodramatic, but Michael Apted’s Class Action gives us a mature, emotionally potent and very character driven film that one wouldn’t expect from the slightly sensationalistic trailers. Hackman is a San Francisco attorney who takes on the prosecution of an auto manufacturing giant with a line of suspicious exploding cars. Opposite him as defence for the corporation? His own daughter (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), with whom he has a rocky history with. He’s a philandering hard ass who was never pleased with her and she blames him for the dissent in her family from his womanizing ways years before. The case itself serves as framework for for the very real, raw interpersonal drama that unfolds between them, and their relationship feels grounded and truthful. The key scene is them together in the kitchen cooking; idle small talk leads to harshly flung accusations, emotions are laid bare and by the time the argument reaches a screaming fever pitch, both are quaking with rage, self reflection and sad regret. It’s a powerful scene of performance from both actors, and you’ll scarce breathe for the duration. Hackman is fire and brimstone as per usual, but there’s also a wounded aspect I’ve never seen in him before, something brought out by Mastrantonio who is spectacular in her calmly devastating turn. The late Donald Moffat is great as her steely firm boss, a man governed by fierce logic who has no qualms in casually covering up key evidence. Fred Dalton Thompson is nicely slimy as the reprehensible auto CEO whose soulless disregard for human life is unsettling, Jan Rubes steals his scenes as a loopy ex engineer with ties to the auto giant and Laurence Fishburne (during his ‘Larry’ days) quietly plays Hackman’s firm partner and family friend. I wouldn’t have probably ever known about this film if I hadn’t have come across it in a thrift store, and I’m glad I did. Forgotten these days it seems, it’s now one of my favourite courtroom pieces out there, for letting the characters tell this story, for making it personal and for flowing through the beats organically. The stately San Francisco architecture and melodic score by James Horner give it a personality as well, but Hackman and Mastrantonio rule the roost and probably give their career bests. Highly recommended.
Roger Donaldson’s No Way Out is a prime example of how to stage an effective thriller, every step of the way and even when things get twisty in a time before every other film had a thunderclap twist midway through. Kevin Costner plays a navy officer operating out of the Pentagon and reporting to the secretary of defence, played by a shady Gene Hackman. He has a stormy affair with mysterious Sean Young, not knowing she is also Hackman’s side chick, and when she turns up dead a whole nightmare of a situation escalates for everyone involved. It’s great fun to see events spiral out of control until everyone is a frantic wreck and we’re just as lost for clues as they are. Then, the pieces slowly fall together and we are blessed with gradual revelation, a few delicious ‘aha!’ moments and one mother of a midway plot twist that lands in the narrative like a screeching cruise missile. Costner is subdued but keen, Hackman is his usual fired up charismatic hotshot, and the film benefits greatly from their crackling collaborate star-power. A knockout supporting turn comes our way from Will Patton, who is unnervingly twitchy as another operative doing his maniacal best to perpetuate a cover up. Maurice Jarre whips up a great score to accent the intrigue, while Donaldson’s direction is surefire skill. A premier 80’s political thriller, one of several launching pads for Costner’s career, and a bitchin’ great time at the movies.