Thursday, May 07, 2009

forgotten cinema - Nighthawks

it may seem rather strange referring to a Sylvester Stallone film as "forgotten cinema", but come on, how many people out there would, if asked, name Nighthawks in a list of his films? it's a bit of a shame that it is not frequently remembered, really. it's far from being a classic work of cinema, but it's a great thriller.

to put some perspective on the film, you have to remember that this was released in 1981. back then Stallone wasn't a global mega-star; he was seen (rightly) as a quality actor who could handle some action sequences and stunts. before Nighthawks, his standout roles were Rocky and Rocky II, as well as the low budget, superb trade union film F.I.S.T..

in regards of the first film of this list, it was Rocky which showcased his acting credentials. forget the excesses of the sequels III & IV to this film, then go back and watch the first one. it is a masterpiece, and not only was Stallone Oscar nominated for his performance in the film, he was frankly unfortunate not to have won.

just to emphasize the "non-big star" status of the time, look carefully at the poster. a small-ish picture of Stallone on it, and whilst he has top billing, his name is distinctly smaller than the title of the film.

this was something of a cautious casting of Stallone as a possible star big enough to carry a film; then. it set a precedent for the launch of future stars - the first posters for Die Hard bore the name of Bruce Willis is rather small lettering, and the building was considerably bigger on the poster than the image of Brucie. this was something rectified for the sequels.

the plot for Nighthawks isn't too complicated - a ruthless terrorist called Wulfgar (Rutger Hauer making his American cinema debut) is on the run, believed to be heading to New York. an aged, experienced British detective (Nigel Davenport in full-on old school English Headmaster style) travels there to train some New York cops (notably Stallone and Billy Dee Williams) with the skills to find him and eliminate him. Stallone's character is happy as an undercover cop working the streets and wants none of it; something that obviously changes but i want to try and keep this as spoiler free as possible.

in regards of Stallone cast as an honest, loyal cop just happy to keep his city streets safe for fellow New Yorkers, well, here's another clue as to just what plan Hollywood had for Sylvester. if the character sounds a bit like another famous movie cop, the look kind of gives it away. here's an image of Stallone as Deke DaSilva in Nighthawks...

.... and here, a few years before, is Al Pacino in the celebrated role of Serpico

not too different, is it? i think someone somewhere had the idea that Stallone could be "the next Pacino" with perhaps a stronger emphasis on action. the odd thing is that had Stallone won the acting Oscar for Rocky, then this is probably the path he would have taken. not many agree with my interpretation on this one, it has to be said. i think people find it easier to see Stallone as all brawn, no brain, and this is rather unfair on the gent.

so, is Nighthawks worth your time looking for? oh yes, very much so. i recall seeing it on TV some 20 or so years ago, and when i saw the DVD going for a rather low price, i had little hesitation to pick it up and look at it again. Stallone juggles the "half acting, half action" requirements of his character rather well, and makes for a convincing cop, if not quite to the level of Pacino. Rutger Hauer's debut with the English language is solid enough, and the cold, ruthless performance here was perfected in his next film where he played the career-defining Batty in Blade Runner.

Lindsay Wagner as the "love interest" has a limited role, perhaps cut to trim the film to a well paced 100 minutes. Billy Dee Williams, however, is given a decent slice of the pie in terms of lines and appearance as Stallone's partner. it's interesting, if nothing else, to see the man who would be Lando Calrissian make several (ahem) oedipal references. whereas there are no particularly outstanding performances across the board, there are no bad performances either. it's not like anyone would have signed on for this film for the accolades, but then again neither the budget nor the time was one where actors took the money and just turned up to slum it.

whilst not as celebrated in the sense that Apocalypse Now is for similar reasons, the making of the film also has many a strange story. a number of scenes were clearly cut (in particular, according to Stallone, an entirely different ending) - the evidence is in the posters and promo pics for the film, the majority of which never featured in the released version of the film. there was some trouble with unions and guilds too, for Stallone opted to direct some scenes himself when, for a range of reasons, the director (Bruce Malmuth) didn't arrive on set.

overall, as hinted at, Nighthawks is an above-average, cat and mouse cop thriller. the premise and condensed speed of the plot may approach the border of far-fetched, but it never crosses that line and certainly isn't contrived. if you want an entertaining but not too demanding film for some entertainment, and/or you are curious about the days when Stallone was cast in a film rather than the film being made around Stallone, then you can do an awful lot worse than find this movie and watch it.

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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