18 April 2011 | noahsdad-31-285608
Not genius, but a decent mystery
I remember well watching Flashpoint on HBO in the summer 1984. It was a really good movie then, and remains one of my favorites today. This was one of the earliest filmmaking partnerships the fledgling cable movie network attempted. The success of Flashpoint, and a handful of others, eventually evolved into one of the most innovative film production companies in modern cinema.
While Flashpoint played in a handful of theaters in a few major markets, it was always intended for the small screen (that's what we called TV when a 27-inch CRT was considered big). I'm quite sure a 16:9 version does not even exist.
Based on the modestly successful novel by George LaFountaine, the film strays from the original story in many respects. As one might expect, the book is significantly longer, with a vastly more complicated plot. The characters of Logan and Wiatt are reversed in terms of their backgrounds and personalities. Desert Rat "Amarillo" and Sheriff Wells factor more thickly into the tale, and the Feds are even more ruthless - but the twist and payoff are the same.
Overall, director William Tannen's treatment is well done. It is clearly a modest budget film, I suspect the lion's share was spent on the drug bust scene and Kristofferson's contract. In case you didn't know, Kris was a hot property in the 80s, and commanded steep appearance fees. Treat Williams was a virtual unknown, as was Kurtwood Smith (later to gain fame as the father in "That 70s Show"). Rip Torn and Roberts Blossom are their usual brilliant, crusty, lovable selves. Tess Harper and Jean Smart both have limited roles, but provide a love interest for our protagonists, and additional visual appeal beyond the stunning panorama of the West Texas border country.
What really keeps this film rolling is the outstanding score by Tangerine Dream. It is alternately compelling and ominous in all the right places. The music is clearly 80s instrumentation, but has a timeless quality that keeps it fresh, even today. The curious choice of a poorly written and awkwardly performed Kristofferson ballad over the closing titles is the only flaw in the soundtrack; but again, that most likely resulted from over excitement at landing such a hot star for such a modest film.
If you're looking for a cinematic masterpiece, this isn't it. But if you enjoy a well-crafted mystery that brushes lightly against one of the pivotal points of the 20th century, Flashpoint is 90 minutes well spent.