In 1985, I went to see a film at the cinema. I was attracted by the two stars, William Petersen, and Willem Dafoe. This is a film about obsession. The obsession of one government agent for revenge, and the obsession of a criminal to avoid arrest at all costs. Just recently, it was shown on TV here and I watched it again, 38 years after that first viewing.
I was still very impressed. This is film noir meeets the age of the pop video, with some vivid colours, and a soundtrack by Wang Chung. The British new wave band composed all the music for the film, and to be honest, it sometimes jars with the visuals. However, this is a film about time and place, and it is near-perfect in that respect.
The ‘good guys’ are Secret Service agents who work in the specialist field of counterfeit money. Petersen (always an intense actor) plays Chance, a no-nonsense rule breaker who cares nothing for procedure, as long as he gets his man. When his partner is killed two days before he is due to retire, Chance goes off the rails to track down his killer. He gets a new partner, Vukovich. (John Panko) He plays it by the book. Suited, reliable, and not about to go along with any rule breaking. So the chase is on for the villain by this mis-matched pair.
The bad guys are printing counterfeit money like it is going out of fashion, led by the talented forger, Rick Masters. (A startlingly young-looking Dafoe.) He has a mule named Cody, played by the talented John Tuturro, and a henchman who does the heavy stuff. When they are surprised by Chance’s former partner, they take him out without a second thought.
Masters is artistic. He paints, his girlfriend is a dancer in an alternative show, and he produces near-flawless forged notes. But he is also completly ruthless, and like the man hunting him, he acts without a second thought when it comes to his own needs and desires.
Chance goes on the offensive. Hassling informants, and following the money to the door of a top lawyer. (Dean Stockwell.) He arrests Cody at the airport, then puts pressure on him in prison. Car chases ensue, but they are good ones. Lots of people get shot, and Chance gets closer and closer to Masters as time runs out for both of them.
And the ending completly surprised me in 1985. Something that rarely happens.
This really is top-notch stylish cop drama, filmed in the usually unseen industrial side of Los Angeles, away from the familiar luxury houses and shopping areas. The criminals are seedy, and so are the cops chasing them. It felt real then, and still does now. Petersen and Dafoe are on sparking form, and ably supported by a well-chosen cast.
(The trailer has flashing images.)