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Firefox (1982)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

FIREFOX (1982)

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Freddie Jones, David Huffman, Warren Clarke, Ronald Lacey

Written By: Alan Lasker, Wendell Wellman, Craig Thomas (novel)

Directed By: Clint Eastwood

The Shot

Clint Eastwood headlines and directs a tense, quick paced classic about stealing a Soviet stealth plane; Cold War genre fans shouldn’t have to think twice before picking up Firefox.


The Highball

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

CHEDDAR SPREAD.

Cold pack for the Cold War.


Pairs Well With...

STOLICHNAYA.

You must drink in Russian.

“You must think in Russian.”


Ah, the stealth plane.  Once upon a time, it was one of the almost-worst-kept almost-secrets of the Cold War.  Everyone “knew” the government was building/had already built one (at some secret base in the Nevada desert, they whispered), even while the government steadfastly denied it.  (The SR-71 Blackbird was all the stealth that the United States military and intelligence services were willing to admit to; though to be fair, it was pretty stealthy in its own right.)  Never mind that speculative model kits could be found at just about every toy and hobby store in the United States.

None turned out to be quite accurate (score one for the government, I suppose), and not surprisingly, many of them ended up looking like SR-71 Blackbirds with a few more sharp edges, angular surfaces, and a little touch of alien spaceship.  In other words, they looked like the title plane from Firefox.

Based upon a novel by Craig Thomas, Firefox is without question one of the classics of the Cold War genre, and one of the most accessible for the casual passerby, as well.  It is a fast paced, spectacularly crafted spy/adventure thriller that has the good sense to shift gears for the final lap, and a testament to Clint Eastwood’s skill both in front of and behind the camera.

The first two acts play in a smooth riding low gear.  Our trepidatious hero, Mitchell Gant – played by Eastwood, of course – is a retired Air Force pilot forced back into service to carry out an impossible mission: after being smuggled into the USSR, he must make his way to a heavily guarded base and steal a prototype of the most advance airplane in the world right out from under the noses of not only the Russian military, but also the General Secretary of the Soviet Union himself.  It’s a task that begs for the James Bond treatment: absurdly daring, preposterous on its face, but just plausible enough to allow for suspension of disbelief for the sake of a good adventure.  Eastwood and company resist the temptation to go the slick route, however; instead playing it thoughtfully and playing it straight, with no wisecracks, no slinky girls, and no sports cars.  There’s just stark, tense drama, kept at a constant simmer thanks to spot-on pacing that never allows things like character development and philosophical world building to feel slow.  This pacing allows Firefox to take advantage of opportunities to enrich an atmosphere that’s already tight thanks to the respect paid to its Cold War setting, filling in details without stretching the fabric.  Thus viewers are treated to an intense fight in a subway terminal restroom that reveals our hero to be imperfect, and several conversations that lend depth to the second string by daring to reveal that the Russian dissidents smuggling Gant across the country aren’t doing it simply because they see Americans as “the good guys.”  (There’s a scene during which Gant asks how one of his Russian allies can feel anything but resentment for a country that asks him to die in its service even though he’s never set foot in it himself, to which the man replies, “I resent the KGB more.”  That, to me, is one of the best exchanges of dialogue in Cold War cinema history.)

But then comes the third act, for which the gear is shifted to “turbo” and the simmering drama gets swept aside for straight up action.  For then it is time for the real star of the show to arrive: the Firefox herself.

One look at this airplane, and there can be no doubt as to why it inspired so many model kits.  The Firefox is just a sexy looking plane with awesome lines that get the pulse racing even when it’s just sitting still in the hangar.  The hot looks are augmented by the special capabilities assigned to it by the script: not only is this plane super fast and super stealthy, but it also features controls that allow its pilot to fly by thought control.  (Provided that the pilot thinks in Russian, of course, so it’s a good thing Gant grew up around a Russian grandmother.)  How awesome is that circa 1982?

Even though the visual effects are starting to show their age after thirty plus years, they still look more than good enough to be effective, so when the Firefox takes to the skies (don’t you dare call that one a spoiler), it is a joy to behold with a handful of crackers, and the inevitable showdown… aw, yeah.  Outstanding stuff.

And yet, that outstanding stuff doesn’t feel out of place set next to the much quieter intensity that came before.  It all flows, and it all makes sense (even though the fact that the US and USSR aren’t at war by the end of the movie does not; we let that go).  That is a mark of good direction.

Bottom line, whether you’re a fan of the Cold War genre or if you just want to see what a pre-Oscar Clint Eastwood does when he’s not wearing a cowboy hat or playing a cop, Firefox is a great way to spend two hours of time.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, June, 2015


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