Wednesday, July 30, 2014
(April 1981, U.S.)
The crime thriller NIGHTHAWKS, in my opinion, may very well have been Sylvester Stallone's second turning point in his film career. The first, as everyone knows, was ROCKY (1976). The next three films that would follow, F.I.S.T. and PARADISE ALLEY (both 1978) and ROCKY II (1979) would each find him playing the underdog fighting against challenging obstacles. NIGHTHAWKS would finally display an almost complete transformation to the man and his traditional character. Physically, the man now looks like this...
...and for the first time in his career, he's playing a real bad-ass motherfucker with a gun (see above picture again!). How many times has Stallone played this sort of tough guy in his career? Who can count. But as is often said, the first time is the best! This is not only his best role as a cop, in my opinion (certainly beats the shit out of COBRA! Man, that sucked!), but I would consider NIGHTHAWKS to be the second best cop and crime thriller I've seen since THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971)!
Before most cop films were constantly dealing with the repeated and recycled plot of serial killers and drug dealers as traditional screen bad guys, NIGHTHAWKS took on the subject of terrorism in New York City twenty years before the events of September 11, 2001 would ever happen. International terrorist Heymar Reinhardt, alias Wulfgar (played by newcomer Rutger Hauer) is on the run from justice after blowing up a London department store. Hiding out on the island of Manhattan, he seeks to continue his wave of fear and terror by exploding buildings in the Wall Street section and taking hostages aboard the Roosevelt Island tram car. In short, he's looking to bring the city to its knees and, of course, the only man who can stop him is Stallone's character of police detective Deke DaSilva (cool name!) and his partner Matthew Fox (played by Billy Dee Williams fresh off of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK). Unlike any other cop he's ever played, however, Stallone plays DaSilva as not only a man committed to his profession, but also a man who feels genuine fear and concern, particularly when it comes to innocent civilians in harms way. This is the exact weakness he needs to fight in order to graduate his mindset from that of traditional street cop to that of a terrorist combat soldier. Even when he's repeatedly screaming "Yer fuckin' dead!" to Wulfgar in the subway, you can tell he's a man who still cares! And as he's taught in repeated Anti-Terrorist Action Command seminars, "Hesitation kills!" and "In order to combat violence, you need greater violence!" Such words, true or not, are certainly valid subjects of debate in our world today that is plagued with terrorism. One could argue those words right now as Israel goes to war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip (but not here, though. I have no interest in political debates on my blog!). As a terrorist, Rutger Hauer plays a sharply drawn character who acts as his own driving force within the movie's violent scheme. Sadism and bloodlessness are his only identifiable characteristics, and yet he manages to behave in a memorable fashion wherever he goes and whatever he does.
Like THE FRENCH CONNECTION, director Bruce Malmuth captures the streets of New York City with much of the same darkness and grit that was very much still alive and well by the year 1980. He also offers a particularly intriguing look at a modern discotheque at a time when disco was considered officially dead. Watch the nightclub scene and take note that people are dancing to tunes like "Slowride" by Foghat, "Brown Sugar" by the Rolling Stones and a synthesized version of the Spencer Davis Group's "I'm a Man" by Keith Emerson (who also provides the film's soundtrack). I tell you, I'd still go to dance clubs if I could shake my ass to great rock tunes like that! Though I understand the most currently available widescreen DVD version of this film by Universal mysteriously substitutes the last two songs I mentioned (WTF???). This is also the first time one can enjoy the classic shootout at a dance club; a sequence we've all seen repeated in many crime films and I'm sure once or twice on TV's MIAMI VICE. By the film's climax, I can't claim that we're seeing anything that extraordinary because it's the classic cliché of good guy shoots bad guy to death. Perhaps one can view this final moment as more of an epilogue following the more climactic sequence of the hostage crisis gone wrong in the end and a speeding bus crashing into the East River. Either way one chooses to experience the action and thrills of NIGHTHAWKS, one can't deny that it's not only a superior crime thriller (and probably overlooked by even some of Stallone's more modern fans of the 21st Century), but one of the most noteworthy roles Sylvester Stallone has ever taken on in a career filled with too many forgettable roles and films. Just watch STOP OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT (1992) and you'll now what I'm talking about!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Matthew Fox: "Come on, Deke. Listen, why don't we check out another place."
Deke DaSilva: "Wait! Wait!"
Deke DaSilva (revising his own pencil sketch of Wolfgar): "Let's say I did this? Took this off?"
DaSilva: "Added this? He could look something like that, couldn't he?"
Fox: "Yeah, I guess so. Why?"
DaSilva: "Because that...is standing over there!"