- Movie Rating -

Nighthawks (1981)

| April 10, 1981

Nighthawks finds itself seated between two very interesting periods of Hollywood commercial filmmaking, between the last lingering days of the down-to-Earth urban thrillers started by The French Connection and the more satisfying yet bloated revenge-on-the-headlines thrillers begun with films like Death Wish.  Sadly, the latter wins and we end up with one of those cop thrillers cranked up to 11 with a villain who seems ripped from the daily pages of The New York Times.

The killer is the best thing in Nighthawks.  His name is Wulfgar, a smooth-talking, ominous terrorist from an unnamed European country who has a history of bad circumstance and a philosophy that could stand for any terrorist group currently acting in the world today.  That’s both important and unimportant to the audience’s perception because freeing this man of any agency, group, or meaningful cause means that the audience can place upon him any hopeless cause that they want.  He can stand for any ethnic group, religious zealots or insane psychology that we want.  He isn’t specific, he’s an open book.

The problem is that freeing him of blame or cause keeps us from really focusing on what he’s so angry about.  He’s quite a study: at one point he takes over a Chicago cable car and suspends is over the East River then calls in a cop (Sylvester Stallone) to be cabled up to the car so they can have a face to face and he can meet his adversary.  Why?  Doesn’t matter.  For what purpose?  Looks good on camera.  To what end?  It makes the audience mumble to itself ‘can you believe this guy.”  This is a movie that is really better the less you think back on it.

Outside of Wulfgar’s machinations lay the story of two cops played by Stallone and Billy Dee Williams whose lives are so generic that they could have been played by Abbott and Costello.  Obviously, the two actors are trying to pull away from type-casting after experiencing monster success in their careers: Stallone with the Rocky pictures and Williams, of course, in The Empire Strikes Back.  But the movie gives them nothing really to do other than spout required cop movie dialogue.  Stallone gets: “I didn’t join the police force to kill people.”  Williams later gets “What are the chances that this guy has gone into hiding or retired?”

The players all seem to be in a different movie, one that was made by soft-soaping the expectations of the viewers.  The concentration on this movie seems to have been on the action scenes such as a chase on a crowded subway car, and the final showdown which has some juice but this is a generic cop vs. terrorism movies in which the screenwriters are afraid of issues, afraid of specifics, afraid of dealing with terrorists on their own ground.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1981) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized