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Flashpoint – film review

July 10, 2015

FLASHPOINT (1984)

Underrated thriller a hold-over of seventies political paranoia.

Directed by William Tannen. Screenplay by Dennis Shryack & Michael Butler, based on the novel by George LaFountaine. Starring: Kris Christopherson, Treat Williams, Kurtwood Smith, Rip Torn, Roberts Blossom, Miguel Ferrer, Jean Smart and Tess Harper. Year of release: 1984. Running time: 94 minutes.

Facing redundancy and an uncertain future, Texas border patrol officers Bobby Logan (Kris Christopherson) and Ernie Wyatt (Treat Williams) stumble upon a half-buried jeep in a desert river bed which has lain hidden for over twenty years. Along with the skeletal remains of its driver, the chance discovery also uncovers a sniper rifle and $800,000 in cash. Deciding to keep the cash, and at Ernie’s urging, the pair embark on their own private investigation to uncover the identity of the driver and the orgin of the cash, before they skip across the border into Mexico. With the arrival of a sinister federal agent (Kurtwood Smith), Bobby and Ernie suddenly find themselves embroiled in a cover-up of a nefarious government conspiracy linked to a notorious November day in downtown Dallas in 1963.

Based on a 1975 pulp novel of the same name by George LaFountaine (written at the height of 70s establishment paranoia), the screenplay was penned by the writing team behind the also underrated 1977 supernatural killer car movie The Car (itself a major inspiration for Steven King’s novel Christine no less). And it’s interesting to note that the arid settings of both Flashpoint and The Car feature landscapes which are as much characters in themselves as the human figures who inhabit them. Reportedly departing from the source material with respect to the characters (it is the younger Ernie in the novel who is keen to take the money and run, while Bobby is swayed by his conscience; wanting to make certain they are not stealing from deserving people), Shryak & Butler’s compelling and tightly-written screenplay moves along at a fair clip, presenting plenty of surprising twists and reveals in its relatively short running time; demonstrating yet again that a film doesn’t necessarily have to be two and a half hours long in order to make you feel you are getting your money’s worth.

The direction by celebrated 80s commercials director William Tannen (here helming his feature debut) is solid – if understated in a 70s William Friedkin kind of way; while the overall procedural tone also recalls the work of Michael Mann. The machismo of the leads and buddy banter between the two is also very reminiscent of the work of 80s tough guy director Walter Hill (48 hrs). And it is this on-screen chemistry between Christopherson and Williams which is a major part of the appeal of the film for, despite their differences, one can truly believe these guys are buddies outside of work. And quite unlike other films involving characters stumbling upon a fortune (Shallow Grave, A Simple Plan) these guys aren’t necessarily blinded by greed and, refreshingly, the money itself isn’t a motivating factor for their actions. Flashpoint also features a solid supporting cast of recognizable character actors. The always watchable Kurtwood Smith (best remembered as head villain Clarence in the original Robocop) is suitably menacing here as the rogue federal agent; charged with covering up the discovery of the buried jeep. And it’s great to see fellow future Robocop alumni Miguel Ferrer also make an appearance, while Roberts Blossom again plays a crazy old coot in filthy underwear (having bizarrely worn a corset in the previous year’s Christine).

The lensing by first time DOP Peter Moss (no relation) beautifully captures the big skies and expansive wilderness of Southern Texas. And the moody synth score       by legendary German band Tangerine Dream is one of their most eclectic and features plenty of Western motifs, perfectly in tune with the film’s setting and tone. Interestingly, The Rolling Stones’ classic track ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ was Tannen’s original choice to play over the end credits, which, considering particular lyrics in the third verse, would have been a perfect fit. Sadly, however, the rights for the song were too expensive – so an alternate track was specifically written for the film (without Tangerine Dream’s involvement) and performed by a group calling themselves The Gems. This fairly forgettable and generic-sounding song is really the only unsatisfactory aspect of what is otherwise an enjoyably effective soundtrack.

While action-wise it would be considered somewhat low-key by today’s standards, Flashpoint still remains an entertaining and well-made mystery-thriller; hinting at     the sinister underbelly of government which is clearly becoming evident now more than ever.

4 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

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From → film reviews

2 Comments
  1. That cast list alone is a thing of beauty. Those were the days.

    • gregory moss permalink

      Yep – I’ve had plenty of friends say the exact same thing regarding the casting. Not a single bad thing to say there – spot on. 🙂

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