Fort Apache, The Bronx
This underseen police drama serves as a good double feature with Daniel Petrie’s Fort Apache, The Bronx. Tense and edgy, the film follows Paul Newman as a police officer in one of the Bronx’s toughest precincts. On one hand, the film is a day-to-day police procedural that follows Newman and his partner as they struggle with day-to-day life. It is also a moral struggle for Newman.
A story-driven by stellar writing and a veteran actor like Newman, Officer John Murphy, comes alive entirely because the character does not have one dimension. Not only does the viewer witness the character struggling with depression and loneliness, but also with the choices he is forced to make on a daily basis to maintain his moral compass. Sidney Petrie directs an excellent film here, best known for the Sidney Poitier-starring masterpiece A Raisin in the Sun. Pam Grier, Ed Asner, Rachel Ticotin, and Danny Aiello round out the supporting cast.
For those who have not seen the film, it provided a foundation for Hill Street Blues a few years later, and that is exactly how the film feels. Although it is unlikely that the outdated film will gain a cult following, fans of Newman and Hill Street Blues will find their fair share of entertainment here in what seems like a good candidate for a midnight viewing.
Sharky’s Machine is probably Burt Reynolds’ best film from the 1980s. It is likely that most people remember the cover from browsing video stores in the 1980s and 1990s, and most of them skipped it due to the horrible films Reynolds made at that time. Reynolds has a lot of merits. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Exceptional dialogue, a strong cast, and a smart story make this some of Reynolds’ best work, not only as an actor but also as a director.
A failing undercover deal leads to the demoting of Tom Sharky (played by Reynolds). As a result of his new job, he uncovers a conspiracy involving a prostitution ring and the nominee for Georgia governor. The film feels more realistic than a lot of cop films of the era. For the most part, it still holds up today. Despite never feeling like a sitcom, this film goes to some incredibly dark and violent places.
Both as an actor and director, Reynolds seems to fit here, he rarely falls into the rhetoric one would expect of him. As the director, he excels as the film takes place on location in Georgia, where he is from.
It doesn’t feel like an imitation on the Atlanta set. Rachel Ward, who plays Domino, the prostitute involved in the conspiracy ring and Reynolds’ love interest, provides the most memorable performance. Sharky’s Machine, especially for crime enthusiasts, has a lot to offer, even if you are not a fan of Reynolds’ typical work.
Absence of Malice
Paul Newman’s second crime film of 1981 is much better than his first. After its release, Sydney Pollock’s Absence of Malice divided critics and audiences entirely, but the film has stood the test of time and is a classic of the genre. The film is more of a legal thriller, but criminality is what fills it, making it a legal thriller.
Newman plays an alcohol salesman who wakes up one morning to find himself on the front page of the paper, saying he is responsible for the disappearance of a union representative. The article is written by a young reporter played by Sally Field, who is so eager to bring headlines that she relays information from a file on a federal prosecutor’s desk that is not meant for her to see. The following is a struggle between Newman and Field and a struggle for their own morality. Great performances elevate the film to a class picture. Wilford Brimley steals the spotlight (yes, even from Newman) in the only scene in which he appears.
Sydney Pollack’s direction is extremely smart, especially by playing on what the audience does not know. Viewers never know whether Newman is innocent, and we as viewers are watching him try to clear his name, but we do not know if we are vying for an innocent man or a murderer. Pollack also explores how our actions can have consequences for others, especially in the context of Fields. Rather than action set pieces, the film keeps the viewer captivated with sharp dialogue and some obvious editing inspiration from All The President’s Men. Malice may very well be one of the great films of the 80s that will never be recognized as such.
Cutter’s Way is a conspiracy theory murder mystery with heavy elements of neo-noir. In its second layer, the film is a character study about loss and desperation. While on his way to meet Alex Cutter, a friend from the Vietnam War, Jeff Bridges’ character Richard Bone becomes a suspect in a murder. Afterward, Cutter and Bone (after the title of the novel the film is based on) tries to prove a ruthless businessman, played by Stephen Elliot, is the murderer.
For this role, John Heard was not nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and he did not become an instant A-List celebrity. As Alex Cutter, he portrays the role with such conviction and desperation, it can be argued that his performance is better than every supporting actor nominee that year. The film is probably Ivan Passer’s best and most well-known work, and he controls the film perfectly. Although the movie received excellent reviews upon release, it lost money at the box office. A few years ago, Twilight Time released a remastered blu-ray of the film, but it still hasn’t found the wide audience that it deserves, so if you haven’t seen it, I recommend that you do.
Director Kathryn Bigelow directs this biker gang crime drama starring Willem Dafoe as the gang’s leader. If you haven’t seen it yet, that should be enough to convince you to watch it right now. A love story ensues along with a rivalry with another gang as Vance, played by Dafoe, leads his gang into a small southern town. This film is a complete homage to the biker films of the 1950s.
Dafoe’s character and Brando’s character are very similar, but Vance is not necessarily just a copy of Brando’s Johnny Strabler. It brings enough to the table that it is not just a novelty item. Surprisingly, the film only has a 3.0 on Letterboxd, but it is still quite good. Although the plot isn’t strong, the tone and nostalgia make up for it. This is Kathryn Bigelow’s first feature film and Willem Dafoe’s first starring role, and they are both excellent, showing their natural talent. The Loveless has been released in a 2K restoration by Arrow Video, so if you haven’t seen it, now is the time.