Peter Hyams' 1990 remake of "The Narrow Margin" (1952) is full of suspense, high-speed thrills and exciting action sequences. Visually, many of the film noir characteristics are retained but this production is also considerably glossier and more colourful than its predecessor. Good use is made of some stunning locations in Canada and the cinematography is impressive throughout. The grittiness and sharp dialogue of the original are dispensed with and the main characters are noticeably much more sophisticated and well-mannered than they were in the Richard Fleischer version.
Recent divorcée, Carol Hunnicut (Anne Archer) goes on a blind date to a Los Angeles hotel where she meets successful lawyer Michael Tarlow (J.T. Walsh). Before they have a meal, Tarlow receives a note and has to make an important telephone call, so the couple go up to his suite where Carol immediately goes into the bathroom. When she comes out again, she sees two men talking to Tarlow and then witnesses one of them shooting and killing him before leaving. Shocked and panicked by what she's seen Carol furtively leaves the suite and goes into hiding.
L.A. Deputy D.A. Robert Caulfield (Gene Hackman) learns that evidence has been found that a witness was present when Tarlow was murdered and also that the identity of the witness has been established. Excited by this information and the possibility it offers of bringing top crime boss, Leo Watts (Harris Yulin) to justice, he then ignores the lack of support that he receives from the D.A. and together with Police Sergeant Dominick Benti (M. Emmett Walsh) heads to the Canadian Rockies where the men visit the log cabin where Carol Hunnicut is hiding out. She's uncooperative and refuses to return to L.A. to testify, but as the men try to change her mind, a mob helicopter arrives overhead and the cabin is immediately engulfed in a storm of machine-gun bullets. Benti is killed in the attack and Caulfield and Hunnicut escape from the cabin in a pick-up truck hotly pursued by the helicopter.
After a desperate chase down a steep forestry road, the couple arrive at a nearby station and take a train to Vancouver. The journey that follows proves to be extremely dangerous as there are two hit-men on board and also some other characters such as a fat man and a blonde woman who they don't know if they can trust.
Gene Hackman brings a great deal of charm, energy and humour to his role as a guy who's out of his depth doing all the action-hero stunts and sums up his character's incorruptibility when he refuses a huge bribe by saying "I like my side of the courtroom, the pay's not so good but the air's a lot better". Anne Archer is also good in her role and makes her fear palpable as she tries desperately to escape the attentions of all her pursuers.
"Narrow Margin" features a number of well-executed stunts, some well directed action sequences and a very strong cast. Its Hitchcockian influences add some extra interest but overall it's uncomplicated, fast-moving and extremely enjoyable.
4 out of 4 found this helpful