When the subject of underrated films comes up, this critic is usually quick to pop out the title of this largely unheralded classic action film from 1985. Why? To begin with, it’s a smart, well-made police thriller that truly thrills without insulting its audience with unnecessary boom boom; it offers a significant plot twist that few — if any — American action movies have attempted before or since; and it marks the first significant roles for several now-iconic actors.
The story follows the dogged pursuit by a couple of L.A. cops of a masterful counterfeiter named, appropriately enough, Eric Masters (Willem Dafoe). After bushwhacking his original partner, cops Richard Chance (William Petersen) and John Vukovich (John Pankow) vow to bring Masters down at any cost. To this end, they devise a complicated plot to steal money from some criminals in order to set up a meet and eventual take-down of their target. Needless to say, things don’t go exactly as planned, and Chance and Vukovich are forced to make some very hard choices in their obsessive pursuit of the bad guy.
Friedkin, who’s brilliance in the genre was earlier realized in The French Connection, made this worthy follow-up more a decade and a half later, but it’s clear he really hadn’t lost a step. Much time and attention is given to lend authenticity to Master’s work (including a long scene detailing exactly how one made counterfeit bills back in the day) and giving him just enough screen time and back story as to make him terrifying. Friedkin also benefits from a great cast, including some of the best work Petersen, Pankow and Defoe ever committed to film, and a surprisingly robust list of accompanying performers, including John Turturro, Dean Stockwell and Jane Leeves. True, you have to suffer through a grating soundtrack from Wang Chung (one of Friedkin’s few missteps in this film’s production), but music aside, it’s a classic of the genre.
The BD version of the newly released disc offers up a handful of interesting featurettes, including a making of piece and a director’s commentary from Friedkin. The most interesting extra, however, is the alternate ending Friedkin was forced by the studio to shoot, offering a ridiculous and nonsensical happy ending.
Piers Marchant is a Philly-based writer and editor, and the EIC (and film critic) for two.one.five magazine(215mag.com). His reviews can be found on 215mag.com and his tumblr blog, Sweet Smell of Success. You can also follow him on twitter @kafkaesque83.