In many ways, Nighthawks (1981) is the perfect transitional film from the more character-driven cop thrillers of the '70s to the shoot-first-ask-questions-later ideology of the '80s. In fact, the stated theme of the film - "Violence can only be fought with greater violence" - was embraced by an entire decade of filmmakers and action icons who molded the action movie into its current energetically excessive incarnation. And at the heart of it all is Sylvester Stallone who took over the troubled shoot after clashing with the original director and created a movie in his own image. Originally meant to focus on real-life international terrorist Carlos the Jackal, studio execs, fearful of theater bombings in reprisal, shifted the script to focus on a fictional Aryan substitute: Wulfgar Reinhardt (Rutger Hauer), so ruthless even his own organization has disowned him. Chased out of London, Wulfgar plans on making a big bang in New York where press coverage of his exploits will earn him the sort of exposure his demanding ego requires. Recruited to stop him are Detectives Deke DaSilva (Stallone) and Matthew Fox (Billy Dee Williams), part of a newly formed anti-terrorism squad who are indoctrinated into a particularly lethal mindset in hopes of fighting fire with fire. DaSilva, a decoy specialist who traps criminals using an array of disguises, would rather bring 'em back alive and takes on the challenge of tracking Wulfgar as a personal obsession. When the two finally do cross paths, DaSilva is forced to pit his conscience against his duties as a cop. Heavily edited by Universal, which had final cut, Nighthawks was shorn of several subplots (including most of Lindsay Wagner's performance) and extra bits of violence, resulting in a film that feels like two stick figures chasing a more well rounded bad guy. Stallone's one-note, matchstick-chewing cop in Cobra had more back-story that DaSilva gets here. And poor Billy Dee Williams barely manages to register beyond token black audience appeal. Would Nighthawks have been a better movie without so many cooks in the kitchen? Maybe, but what remains is still pretty compelling. In his first English-speaking role, Rutger Hauer simply owns the movie. His smooth international terrorist is gleefully merciless without slipping into cartoon camp (not unlike Hans Gruber from Die Hard a few years later) and feels like the only character worth watching. Stallone gives him a run for his money with a physical performance that almost overcomes his lack of personality. The two seem genuine adversaries, which only seems to confirm the rumor that the actors were at odds throughout the film and for decades after. But Nighthawks biggest selling point is the gritty New York setting and a pair of top-notch action sequences, the first of which stretches for 15 long minutes beginning with a nightclub shoot out spilling into a thrilling subway chase. Supposedly directed by Stallone before replacement director Bruce Malmuth arrived, it's one of those "only in New York" set pieces that marked the genre's last gasp before production shifted overwhelmingly to the West Coast in the mid '80s. Then there's the finale, which, even in truncated form, is a crowd-pleasing, character arc friendly moment that Stallone sells with his usual gusto. Part of the new Shout Select Blu-ray series (number 6 on the spine), this collector's edition looks just terrific in hi-def, retaining a good amount of the grain structure that's the era's signature, and layering on a surprising amount of supplementary material (no deleted footage, though, so don't get your hopes up). What is here are several interviews, including producer Herb Nanas (audio only), writer Paul Sylbert, DP James A Contner, Police Consultant Randy Jurgensen, and actors Lindsay Wagner and Catherine Mary Stewart (who has a bit part in the film). Enough time has passed that everyone is pretty honest about what went wrong and what went right on the film. And while it's disappointing that no principal cast or creative members are involved, one does get a fairly complete picture of how things went down.
THIS WEEK'S REVIEW

RECENT REVIEWS

NEW Interviews with Producer Herb Nanas,

Writer Paul Sylbert, DP James A. Contner,

Police Consultant Randy Jurgensen,

Actors Lindsay Wagner and Catherine

Mary Stewart plus the Theatrical Trailer

RAISING CAIN

METALSTORM:  THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED SYN

THEATER OF BLOOD

DEAD END DRIVE-IN

TENEBRAE

BLOOD SIMPLE

THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME

THE HILLS HAVE EYES

THE RIFT