Title: Nighthawks (1981)
Director: Bruce Malmuth
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Rutger Hauer, Billy Dee Williams, Joe Spinell
Most of the time a films production problems are completely transparent to the audience. A film will arrive to theaters, people will embrace it and make it a blockbuster; but how the film got there, and all the troubles it went through to get made are sometimes never known to the audience. This was the case for me with Nighthawks, a film I have liked ever since I first saw it many years ago as a kid. I wasn’t aware it had gone through a couple of problems on its way to the silver screen. It was one of the first films I saw with a truly evil and memorable villain, Rutger Hauers performance as Wolfgar is one that I have never forgotten, it made an impression on my young mind. What problems did this film face? Well, for one, the films orginal director was to be Gary Nelson, the director behind The Black Hole (1979) and Allan Quartermain and The Lost City of Gold (1986), looking back at his filmology makes me happy that Gary Nelson didn’t end up directing Nighhawks. But moving on, the first problem the project faced came when Gary Nelson abandoned the project. He was then replaced him with Bruce Malmuth, a director who had worked with Stallone before. Everything seems to be running smoothly when suddenly, on the first day of filming, Malmuth failed to appear! And this was the day in which the awesome subway chase was to be filmed! What to do? What to do? Here’s what was done: Stallone himself stepped in to direct the scene! Interestingly enough, that was my favorite scene in the whole movie, such a memorable chase! Thanks to Stallone stepping in to direct the sequence, the production didn’t fall behind schedule. Stallone was already a director himself, having directed Paradise Alley (1978) and Rocky II (1979) before, so I’m sure he would have no problems in directing the scene himself, and even though the Directors Guild of America has strict rules about having actors directing a film they are starring in, he was given special permission to do it and so the film moved on. But you wouldn’t know any of these problems from watching the movie because the end result was such a solid film.
Nighthawks tells the story of Deke DaSilva and Matthew Fox two street cops that work the night beat. Their job? To stop crime by working undercover, in disguise. And they are pretty good at what they do! But things change when their military backgrounds get them chosen for a special task force that is being trained to stop an international terrorist known as Wolfgar. You see, Wolfgar is the kind of terrorist that works doing other terrorist dirty work. And like Deke and Matthew, he is the best at what he does! Unfortunately, when the police in
"You talking to me? That's what I thought!"
As I was watching the film, I got this feeling like I was watching The French Connection (1971) for some reason. I guess it had something to do with the films grimy look and feel; it’s not every film that can capture this grimy '
Nighthawks is also special because it was Rutger Hauer’s first American film. In the opening sequences of the film he sports a beard, same as Stallone’s character does. I guess the idea was that Hauer and Stallone’s characters mirror each other. As Wolfgar points out to Deke at one point, they aren’t so different from each other, a theme that pops up through out the entire film. This mirror image idea between the hero and the villain carries itself even onto the films poster which is composed half of Stallone’s face and half of Hauer’s face. Speaking of Rutger Hauer’s performance on this film, it’s nothing short of awesome. As is to be expected from a Hauer villain, he exudes evil. I guess he was destined to play memorable characters from the get go. What makes this film special is that this is where Hauer’s long streak of memorable villains started.
"You people are never prepared, there is no security"
Instead of Richard Pryor playing the comedy sidekick, we get Billy Dee William’s playing Matthew Fox, Deke’s partner. Matthew and Deke do sort of have a comedic back and forth between them, but it’s nothing overtly comical. They simply act as two buddy cops, I’m sure Matthew Fox would have turned out to be a completely different kind of character had Richard Pryor played it, certainly a bit more inclined towards the funny side of things. But not here, Nighthawks is a deadly serious film, the kind of movie that could have come out of the late 70’s early 80’s, where people where angrier and their anger bled into their art. Crime was certainly something that was annoying people to the max, it’s something that’s portrayed in films from this era as being a real problem. The Deathwish films are a good example of this. On Nighthawks we have Deke and Matthew dismantle a drug lab and save a woman from being raped in the first fifteen minutes of film! There is one scene in which Billy Dee Williams gets his moment to shine, where he finds these kids running a drug lab and he smacks the drug dealers around and tells them “I should kill you motherfucker! For all the lives you’re taking away with this shit!” He looks like he was going to do it too had Deke not stopped him! My only gripe with the film is that at one point they drop Matthew Fox and suddenly it’s all about Deke while Matthew is on the sidelines. It would have been cool to have them be together all through out the film, but it’s a minor hiccup in an otherwise great film. So we get a solid cast here, I mean Stallone, Hauer, Billy Dee Williams and we even get Joe Spinnell whom some of you might recognize from Maniac (1980) as the Police Lieutenant that screams and barks orders at Deke and Matthew. So rest assured, we get a solid cast here.
Some last words on the film: it has some great action sequences! Actually, I see this movie as going from one awesome sequence to the next. We get some cool street cop action when were introduced to Deke and Matthews every day job stopping crime on the streets, then were introduced to Hauer’s terrorist escapades in England, then we get to see him carry his terrorist work to New York City, and here’s the cool thing about this movie: it was shot entirely on location; something that adds to the realism of the film. The streets of
So what we got here my friends is a gritty as hell cop flick with lots of realism infused into it and a solid, solid cast. I mean, this film is terribly underrated. It’s not a complex or “deep” film, but it’s a solid thriller with an extremely memorable villain. Sadly, audiences at the time didn’t accept Stallone in other roles that weren’t Rocky Balboa, which is why quickly after this one “bombed” at the box office, Stallone went straight for the safe move and did Rocky III (1982). I say “bombed” because even thought the film made its money back (it was only made with a mere 5 million dollars if you can believe it!) it still didn’t make as much money as the studio expected. Stallone himself has said that this film was ahead of its time, and that audiences weren’t really ready for it. To top things off, the studio itself didn’t believe in the film. The film has found its audience in thanks to the home video market, I consider it one of Stallone’s best films and certainly one of his most underrated ones, so if you haven’t seen it I’d recommend checking it out for a night of solid action and thrills with an extremely satisfying ending.
Rating: 4 out of 5