Saturday, 25 April 2009

A guilty pleasure

Returning home late last night, I stumbled over a favourite film from my early teens: Firefox, the one where Clint Eastwood steals the Soviet Union's eponymous superplane.

Let's get some important points out of the way first: (1) The film is a shameless, twice-baked piece of Cold War cheese. (2) The idea that in the early Eighties, the Soviets might have been able to surprise the West with a revolutionary-on-all-fronts wonder-weapon, was pretty silly at the time --- although I remember it being taken seriously in the media --- and in retrospect, it's even sillier than the idea that messed-up middle-aged pilot Mitchell Gant might just walk in and fly the plane out of Russia.

Having taken due note of all that, the film is great. The effects are superb, and have not only stood the test of time, but are a pleasant reminder of the days when special effects were just that: occasional, rather than structural. And one can see some of Eastwood's characteristic concerns, both as a star and, in what was a relatively early outing, as a director. (It helps if, as I did, one also reads the book, and can see the changes of content and emphasis.) The ruthlessness of the Western spymasters is downplayed a little, but Gant's ruthlessness is downplayed a lot: in the film he has a code, a respect for others caught up in the events, and a confused-and-weary disdain for his masters and the inhumanity of the conflict.

And the film itself has great sympathy for the professionals among the Soviet officers. Respect for Voskov, the pilot, comes as no surprise, but one finds oneself barracking for the police inspector; for Dmitri Priabin (Oliver Cotton), the 2IC of the KGB team on Gant's trail; and most of all for General Vladimirov (Klaus Löwitsch), head of the effort to recapture the plane. He himself has respect for his adversaries, a hatred of overconfidence and hasty conclusions, and no malice ... and he is very, very good at what he does. The case is oversold by making the First Secretary a buffoon, and such an obvious hindrance to the Soviets' task, but there's great dignity in Löwitsch's performance, and a vision of professionalism-among-the-enemy in the tradition of the great war films.

It's a guilty pleasure of a movie, but a real one.

No comments: