25 November 1998 | grift
Sociological Gangster satire for the pop-art age.
Robert Dillon's script was considered by producer Joe Wizan to be a black comedy along the lines of Dillon's earlier one for "Prime Cut" (1972: d. Michael Ritchie). Director Frankenheimer, on returning to the USA after much time in France, was faced with a situation wherein years of bad reviews of his films were taking their toll. He accepted this project, and wanted Robert Mitchum for the main role, but the producers wanted Richard Harris, fresh from the hit film "A Man Called Horse".
Critically however, the released film was felt to be a total fiasco, many reviewers holding that it represented the director's career at rock bottom. The film's dark, bleak humour and use of caricature were considered testimony to a certain sadism on Frankenheimer's part, and evidence of his growing contempt. In later years, even the great director plays down this most unusual gangster satire.
It concerns a hitman trapped between rival gangs, and takes place in a vaguely futuristic city, which seems spatially to constantly re-define itself. It is filmed obliquely, so one is never on sure footing as to how to react. What is most interesting about this peculiarity, are the number of bizarre, surrealistic pop-culture set-pieces in a world of futile violence and rampant egos. Only despair and nihilism at the absurdity of it all enables the characters to hold on to whatever shreds of honour they can maintain although they all succumb to personal pride at the expense of everything else.
Frankenheimer directs with a stylistic over-kill at times which sits uneasily with a certain lethargic quality, although it probably guarantees the film a cult audience in the future. Perhaps the film is best seen as a failed, but intriguing attempt to reconcile the director's frequent recourse to stylization with genre-based social satire. Still, the film seems uncertain of its aims, and tends to flounder in its often considerable visual panache. The remarkable opening sequence however, is amongst the oddest ever put to film, and typifies the film's sense of comic despair. A curio.