Tag Archives: j.t. Walsh

Ron Howard’s Backdraft

Ron Howard’s Backdraft is all you could want in a big budget Hollywood picture, and more in the sense that it combines a handful of genres for one big opus that’s bursting at it’s seams with family drama, romance, mystery, psychological thrills (of the deliciously heavy handed variety) and no shortage of shit blowing up. As far as firefighter films go, this is probably where the buck stops as far as I’m concerned. Stuff like Ladder 49 came and went without much lasting impression as I’m sure the Josh Brolin one from this year will too, but Backdraft man, it’s an action classic that’s endured and aged remarkably well over the years. It opens with a bang as a Chicago team thunders into action set to a score by Hans Zimmer that could wake the dead. This intro serves as a showcase moment for what’s to come, as we meet two brothers who are fiercely competitive, each scarred by there fireman father’s (Kurt Russell) untimely demise. The older (also Russell) is a headstrong bull with self destructive tendencies, while the younger (William Baldwin) does his best to live up to the family name by struggling through the academy. That’s the framework for a story that’s brimming with characters and subplots, as any Hollywood epic should be. Robert Deniro steals the show as a gruff, old school arson investigator who’s seen a few deadly fires in his time, and keeps a close watch on psychopath firebug Donald Sutherland, who himself gives a thoroughly chilling performance. Scott Glenn is rough ‘n tough as veteran fireman Axe, Jennifer Jason Leigh is Baldwin’s flame in a role that’s uncharacteristically safe for the daring actress, while Rebecca De Mornay is terrific as Russell’s ex-wife. Ohh and J.T. Walsh steals every scene as a dubious politician. What a cast. The film is big, bold and noisy, with a visual and auditory aesthetic that will give any home theatre system a pounding. Zimmer’s score is seriously awesome, a grandiose, emotional, booming concoction that stands as both one of his best and most underrated. This is one of the old fashioned, pure bangers of unbridled cinematic escapism that can’t be beat, replicated or watched too many times.

-Nate Hill

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Jonathan Mostow’s Breakdown

Jonathan Mostow’s Breakdown is one hellcat of a thriller, a nitrous injected highway nightmare scenario that doesn’t quit until the tanks empty, quite a few people are dead and Kurt Russell has burned off umpteen carbs running about the southwest searching for his missing wife (Kathleen Quinlan). In the tradition of great road pictures like Steven Spielberg’s Duel and Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher, this one know ms to keep the speedometer revved for maximum effect, the best method for these types of films. Russell and Quinlan are your average American couple, driving from A to B along some forgotten stretch of freeway out there. After a brief stop, she vanished, he panics and so begins his breathless crusade for the truth. The local cops are useless, no one seems to have witnessed her vanish, and he’s pretty much on his own, not to mention hunted by some nefarious truck drivers who probably know more than they should. J.T. Walsh, king of businesslike scumbag roles, gives what may be his nastiest here as Red Barr, a long-haul semi driver who knows exactly where Russell’s wife has gone, and ain’t telling, no sir no how. Similarly, big old M.C. Gainey, another Hollywood thug, is in high evil gear as just one more backroad asshole Russell has to deal with, and the two have a crackling showcase of a high speed standoff, one in the driver’s and one in the passenger seat, playing close quarters mortal kombat to see who comes out on top, and who comes out dead. The Fast and The Furious has nothing on these types of films, for it’s less about bombarding an audience with a stunt a second, and more about rhythmic pacing, then knowing when to open up and let the ripcord fly. Taut, precise, unrelenting little flick.

-Nate Hill

Jonathan Mostow’s Breakdown

Jonathan Mostow’s Breakdown is one hellcat of a thriller, a nitrous injected highway nightmare scenario that doesn’t quit until the tanks empty, quite a few people are dead and Kurt Russell has burned off umpteen carbs running about the southwest searching for his missing wife (Kathleen Quinlan). In the tradition of great road pictures like Steven Spielberg’s Duel and Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher, this one know ms to keep the speedometer revved for maximum effect, the best method for these types of films. Russell and Quinlan are your average American couple, driving from A to B along some forgotten stretch of freeway out there. After a brief stop, she vanished, he panics and so begins his breathless crusade for the truth. The local cops are useless, no one seems to have witnessed her vanish, and he’s pretty much on his own, not to mention hunted by some nefarious truck drivers who probably know more than they should. J.T. Walsh, king of businesslike scumbag roles, gives what may be his nastiest here as Red Barr, a long-haul semi driver who knows exactly where Russell’s wife has gone, and ain’t telling, no sir no how. Similarly, big old M.C. Gainey, another Hollywood thug, is in high evil gear as just one more backroad asshole Russell has to deal with, and the two have a crackling showcase of a high speed standoff, one in the driver’s and one in the passenger seat, playing close quarters mortal kombat to see who comes out on top, and who comes out dead. The Fast and The Furious has nothing on these types of films, for it’s less about bombarding an audience with a stunt a second, and more about rhythmic pacing, then knowing when to open up and let the ripcord fly. Taut, precise, unrelenting little flick.

-Nate Hill

Peter Hyam’s Narrow Margin 


Peter Hyams Narrow Margin is a sleek thriller that attempts to blend courtroom intrigue with a single location white-knuckler, which it does.. mostly successfully. A better way to put it would be that it sandwiches a cat and mouse game set on a speeding train between an intro and epilogue both set in the decidedly more complicated realm of legal escapades. We open as an unfortunate lawyer (J.T. Walsh in a too brief cameo) is assassinated by the mobster scumbag (Harris Yulin, creepy as ever) he had shady ties too. A terrified Anne Archer hides in the shadows, witness to the murder, and therefore a valuable asset to the dogged prosecutor (Gene Hackman) who is trying to bring the kingpin down. The two of them are ambushed on a routine transport via helicopter and escape onto said train, and here’s where the narrative cops out just a little bit. Almost the entire rest of the film is spent on the train, an extended diversion of a set piece that steps in for what I thought would be a more cerebral battle of wills between these factions, in court and out. It’s not a huge deal, I was just expecting a little more, and the bits at either end of the film stand as my favourite sequences. Hackman plays stubborn like no other, having both literal and figurative tunnel vision here, the only one thing he cares about being the life of his witness. They’re harried at every turn by corrupt officials of many kinds, and pursued by a mystery woman (Susan Hogan, my acting mentor in college no less), while the train hurtles through the gorgeous Canadian wilderness, captured pristinely by Hyam’s lens as he dutifully does his own cinematography, the dynamo. It’s a thrilling little piece that benefits from Hackman’s spirited work, the photography and editing backing it up nicely.  

-Nate Hill