Friday, November 12, 2010

Underrated Movie #97: Shoot to Kill

Title: Shoot to Kill
Year: 1988
Director: Roger Spottiswoode
Writers: Harv Zimmel and Michael Burton and Daniel Petrie, Jr., from a story by Zimmel.
Stars: Sidney Poitier, Tom Berenger, Kirstie Alley

The Story: A San Francisco hostage situation ends badly: the hostage is killed and the killer gets away with 2 million in diamonds, headed for the Canadian border. Tough-as-nails G-man Poitier is hot on his trail, but that means he has to do some harrowing mountaineering with an anti-social backwoodsman as his guide.

How it Came to be Underrated: Nifty little chase thrillers like this were no big deal in the late ‘80s but today they seem like a lost art. Your milage may vary with this one --it’s rather cheesy and unambitious-- but I was pleased to find that it was just as lean and sharp as I had remembered it.

Why It’s Great:

  1. People assumed that Poitier had retired in the ‘80s. That wasn’t true, but it might as well have been: he had grown tired of playing “righteous racial rectitude” types, so he quietly decided that he was only going to play roles that hadn’t been written for any particular race. That meant that he got little work. I’m just glad that he had one last kick-ass big-screen starring roll.
  2. Poitier is an Oscar winner. Berenger and Alley… aren’t, so you might think that they’d be a drag on the movie, but lo and behold they both do great, unaffected work here. This might have been Berenger’s best role. He’s a natural-born mountain man.
  3. The script pulls off a very risky trick for the middle third. We cross-cut between the pursuit by Poitier and Berenger on the one hand, and the group of fly fishermen that Alley is taking into the wilderness on the other hand. We know that one of the fishermen is really the killer, but we don’t know which one. To make it harder for us to guess, they cast a bunch of character actors who had already played killers in other movies. The camera keeps suspiciously lingering on the faces of each one, even though all but one turn out to be innocent this time.
  4. But I think this movie makes one big but forgivable mistake. The final act, where the chase moves back to the city, is still very exciting, but I think they should have let things wrap up in the woods. Ending it the way they do causes two problems: First, it’s not believable that Alley or Berenger would still be involved with the case at that point. Second, it makes the whole mountain trip into a red herring. We see Poitier struggle mightily to overcome that mountain, so it would have been nice if that hadn’t all been for naught.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Poitier’s previous visit to the northwest was another underseen little nail-biter, The Slender Thread from 1965.

How Available Is It?: It’s on a bare-bones DVD.

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: Free as a Bird!


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Daniel Smith said...

Matt, you got some blam (blog spam) that needs attention.

Anyway, similar to this plot is a Gene Hackman movie from1990, Narrow Margin that I enjoyed.

Anonymous said...

I don’t know, Tom Berenger is in Alan Rudolph’s Love at Large where he plays a PI with a hilarious gruff voice. That’s got to be his best performance IMO