This was a movie I saw in the theater when it was out, and was always attended to when it came up on cable, because, to me and my fellow fourteen-year-old friends, it was pretty awesome. So it was always a candidate for re-reviewing, although time reveals it to be quite slow, dull and shoddily made. Another prime example of how thrillers were just plain slower back in the day, with whatever implications that may carry. This film is a somewhat undeserved two hours and fifteen minutes, when it should have been ninety, tops.
We open in Alaska, where Clint Eastwood as Mitchell Gant is out jogging past his neighbor Sarah Palin, out trying to see if she can catch a glimpse of Putin rearing his ugly head. A big helicopter pulls up--and by now we know they've found Gant in his mountain hideaway, where he has come to escape the horrors of his military past, but are going to pull him in for one last job, because he's the best they've got, and he'll be strongly coerced into taking it. I guess this all wasn't a total cliche back then. If, however, you area familiar with this cliche, you can advance to twenty minutes in. The difference here is that Gant is a Vietnam vet who was taken POW for like ten minutes, and saw a young girl get incinerated as he was rescued, and is all haunted and still has terribly inconvenient flashbacks. I DO wonder if they'll occur throughout the movie right at the most in inopportune times, don't you?
The reason he has been recruited is that the Russians have developed a super-advanced jet that can sustain speeds of Mach 6, features thought-guided missiles, a mobile espresso machine, iPod dock, and full HD DVD player. The first twenty minutes feature a wildly avant-garde nonlinear editing scheme. The plane is deemed "invincible," and Gant has to just go over and steal it. The justness of simply stealing another's plane is never questioned, as it's just a given that if there's advanced technology, America owns it by right. The idea also is that if we steal this one plane, the Russians will be shit out of luck, and couldn't possibly just make another one from the plans they must have. The amount of people throughout the movie who are willing to sacrifice their lives so that Americans can have this plane is, ummm, surprising. Maybe I'm just not a good patriot.
So Gant is put in disguise, and given a little radio he is told he must never lose, his life depends on it. You might think this would foreshadow some tension where he DOES get parted from it, but, you know, not really. He arrives in Moscow--watch for the obviously rear-projected shot as he walks by the Kremlin--and is followed by various people. He meets some contacts and they go through a long, low-key suspense sequence along the river and later in a train station. Then there's a long, low-simmering suspense sequence of taking various cars and vans to the location of the plane. This all goes on for the first hour and fifteen minutes.
SPOILERS > > >
So at last the plane is revealed. Some scientists, who know that only Americans can be trusted to use this technology judiciously, create a diversion that allows Gant--after one of those inconvenient post-traumatic flashbacks--to simply get in the plane and fly it out of there. You'll notice that we have shots of a hangar door slowly closing, but they don't seem to be anywhere near the actual plane. And, around 1:27, you'll note that in one shot it's the pitch black of night, and in the next shot it's deep into the dawn's light. Gant gets away with the plane.
Now we begin the familiar tropes of Russians following his progress, finally becoming convinced that this American pilot is the best of the best, and Americans following his progress, coming to believe that he has died, but--wait! My God, he's still alive! Meanwhile, Gant is flying the jet, helpfully talking to himself the whole time in order to offer exposition to us, such as: "Can't fly higher--I'm too low on fuel!" He destroys a few helicopters or whatnot on the way, then has to use his radio, which made it through just fine, without any kind of challenge, to locate his refueling station, which is a submarine that has surfaced through the Arctic ice. Gant lands the plane on the ice, helpfully explaining: "Can't use the brakes... it's gonna be close!" He refuels and takes off again.
I will say that the movie does a good job of expressing the plane's speed. They just use sped-up footage, but it works. Anyway, the final challenge comes as the Russians launch their OTHER Firefox, which catches up to Gant in a jif and somehow doesn't face the same refueling problems. They have a long chase and dogfight, with Gant spinning out for a while AND having Vietnam flashbacks, but then he comes to, and POOF, one rear-launched missile is all it takes. Oh gee, and here I thought that jet was supposed to be formidable. Then Gant says "I'm going home," and then... that's it? It just ends? Pretty much. Yup.
< < < SPOILERS END
So it was, unfortunately, a lot lamer than I recalled. I mean, I knew it was from '82, so it would be clunky, but I thought perhaps it would be energetic or suspenseful. But then I started figuring it was directed by Eastwood himself, even though I didn't find that out for sure til the end of the film, just because it has his patented slowness that, for my taste, is so slow it almost destroys his films. Especially when they're supposed to be suspenseful action thrillers. This just goes on, without much interest and certainly without any intriguing twists or turns... it is just straightforward, beginning to end. Everything is right there on the surface. There are no surprises. It's just a really straightforward, really square film.
It won't kill you, but I think you have better ways to spend your time.