Lee Tamahori’s Mulholland Falls gets a bad rap in some circles for being boring and uneventful despite its charismatic cast and opulent setting that’s ripe for peppy action sequences. I think they are confusing boring with the concept of a paced and very slow burn, yet one with all the texture and richness of an action film, one that admirably decides to take the route of the old school noir, with loving care put into story and character, two elements which the action and violence live simply to serve, and not to take the driver’s seat against. Or it’s simply not some people’s cup of tea, which is totally okay too. Personally though, I love a good L.A. cop yarn that has a story to go with the toughness. This one bears striking similarity to 2013’s Gangster Squad, which also had Nick Nolte playing a 1940’s Los Angeles cop in charge of a squad that operates outside of the law. That film is pure cheese, all razzle dazzle and no plot. Mulholland Falls falls somewhere between Gangster Squad and L.A. Confidential; not quite up to delving into the serpentine intrigue of the latter, yet infinitely more interested in telling a worthwhile story than the former. And tell it does, in high flying style that only a crime film set in that time period can do. Nick Nolte plays Hoover, a whiskey voiced, take no prisoners LAPD badass who heads up an elite anti corruption task force that operates far outside the red tape and pretty much do what they want to stomp out corruption. His squad consists of Michael Madsen, Chris Penn and a scene stealing Chazz Palminteri as the oddball of the bunch, with serious impulse control issues. A straight up dream cast of tough guys, and although I’ll admit that Penn and Madsen are a tad underused, their presence alone boosts the film’s credentials into an epic pantheon. The film revs up with a kicker of an opening sequence in which the squad severely roughs up a troublesome mobster (an uncredited William L. Petersen). “This isn’t America, it’s Los Angeles” Nolte growls to him, stating the tone of perverse lawlessness which permeated the city back then. Soon he’s drawn into a tawdry scandal involving the murder of a young prostitute (Jennifer Connelly) who he previously had encounters with. The search leads him far and wide, crossing paths a sleazy photographer (Andrew Mcarthy), a dying air force tycoon (John Malkovich manages to ham it up even at his most laid back) and his stern lieutenant (Treat Williams). Nolte also has a poor jilted wife played nicely by Melanie Griffith in limited but effective screen time. The plot is hard boiled to the bone, with Nolte in one his most gruff mid career roles and loving every stressed out, rage fuelled second of it. The conclusion is his show, with a whacked out Palminteri in tow for a spectacular sequence set aboard a doomed military aircraft. The cast gets deeper, believe it or not, with Daniel Baldwin, Ed Lauter, Kyle Chandler, Titus Welliver, Louise Fletcher, Rob Lowe and Bruce Dern contributing gamely. This one’s got style on it’s side and then some, replicating a sense of time and place with the torque ramped up to near Sin City levels. Admittedly not perfect, but a pure and simple blast of a flick, in my opinion.
Being a product of the 1980’s, there are more than a few under the radar gems that always made me smile (for one reason or another) or that kept me entertained. Based on the novel Free Fall by J.D. Reed, The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper was one of those titles that I found myself watching on cable (or was it HBO?) repeatedly, never truly understanding it, but enjoying it nonetheless. It’s always been on the back on my mind to revisit, so I sought it out, and low and behold, it’s nearly impossible to find. So I recently purchased a Hungarian Region B DVD for the film (no American disc release has ever occurred, to my knowledge), and despite the fact that the movie was lensed 1.85:1 and then presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio (thus losing visual information), I had to check it out again. The disc transfer looks to have been processed in bowls of urine, which is a shame, because the image looked overly yellow in numerous spots and the cinematography, in general, is consistently eye-catching. As for the movie, it’s exactly as I remembered it being – a raucous, wild, totally crazy little action adventure that took a real man and real situation and turned the entire thing into the equivalent of story you’d tell at a campfire, or an urban legend that takes on a mind of its own.
Released in 1981, the film centers on wild-man aircraft hijacker D. B. Cooper (Treat Williams in a unique role), who made off with $200,000 in 1971 after leaping from the back of a plane over the Pacific Northwest. The script imagines what it would have been like for Cooper to hide out and attempt to evade capture by law enforcement. Jeffrey Alan Fiskin’s incident packed screenplay fictionalized most of what happened during Cooper’s escape, but that doesn’t prevent this offbeat item from being undervalued if a tad obscure; Fiskin’s other scripting credits include Cutter’s Way and Tony Scott’s pulpy thriller Revenge. John Frankenheimer was the film’s original director, and would later denounce the entire production. He was replaced by TV journeyman Buzz Kulik just before shooting began. Then, after the movie was well into production, Kulik was fired, and replaced by final collaborator Roger Spottiswoode, who would be the only director to receive an onscreen credit. The film has an interesting, sort of ramshackle visual aesthetic, heightened by a jaunty, honky-tonk-ish score by James Horner. A sort of lark that would never get made today, the performances by Robert Duvall (as an insurance investigator) and Williams anchor the film with a level of class and conviction, Kathryn Harrold was a total knock-out, and while the overall lightheartedness of the entire endeavor is apparent from frame one, the various action scenes are briskly shot, cut, and executed, especially the opening sequence complete with a real sky-dive done before the era of CGI laziness kicked in.