' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Flashpoint (1984)

Friday, August 16, 2019

Friday's Old Fashioned: Flashpoint (1984)

As border patrolman Bobby Logan, Kris Kristofferson is ostensibly the hero of “Flashpoint” (1984), though he’s not exactly heroic. That’s not to suggest he’s anti-heroic, necessarily, nor outright evil, but, as connoted in his frequent bemused chuckle and “whatever, man, you do you” grin, never gets all that hot and bothered; when he says he took this job for a little “peace and quiet”, you believe him. That peace and quiet is threatened, though, as director William Tannen’s thriller opens with some government flunky advising Bobby and his border patrol pal Ernie Wyatt (Treat Williams) and all the other agents about their imminent replacement with sensors planted in the desert that can detect border crossings. If this provides motivation for Bobby when he comes across $800,000 in cash buried in a jeep buried in the desert, it also foreshadows the government’s looming role in the proceedings, epitomized in a twist I never suspected until the t’s started getting crossed. Compared to the film’s more minimalist tendencies, this twist is rather overwrought, yet still comes off, not least because of Rip Torn’s grand supporting turn, which we’ll get to.

Upon finding the cash, Bobby lets Ernie in on his discovery, not least because Ernie takes this news of potential job displacement the hardest. But if Ernie rages against his employers, he has ideals, glimpsed in his no holds barred excoriation of a local border smuggling kingpin, and so the thought of absconding with money that isn’t his makes him queasy. So rather than simply taking the money and running, they decide to check out the origin of this jeep, running the license plate number through their computer system, setting in motion a chain of events that leads back to the Federal Reserve in Dallas, Texas and November 1963 which, well, connect the dots, hotshot. As the government quickly descends, given face by Carson, played with dependable sneering disdain by Kurtwood Smith, the more Bobby floats the idea of simply high-tailing it to Mexico, which is an irony that “Flashpoint” never pushes too much, Americans crossing the border going the other way.

“Flashpoint”, filmed in various locales throughout Arizona, has an impressive sense of place, the unremitting desert interspersed with jagged rocks and craggy crevices, underlined by a Tangerine Dream score accentuating the eerie emptiness. When Bobby and Ernie inspect the jeep, you never expect the expected moment of someone happening on them at just the wrong moment because you already sense they are too far away from everything. And that oblivion becomes the point more so than it being the border between America and Mexico. In fact, Carson recites a lengthy monologue about how the border and the problems accompanying it is nothing more than a vehicle for keeping a certain kind of patriotic fury in business. And though that feels even more relevant seen through the prism of Right Now, it’s still laying the whole thing on thick, though Kristofferson has his character meet this ornate monologue with the perfect plain-faced expression of bewilderment.

Yes, the American government is the villain here, and those persnickety motion sensors not only are coming for your jobs but symbolize the intrusion of the surveillance state, ensuring that no last speck of America land will go unwatched. The concluding shootout, including a brief bout of ho-hum slow motion, is no great shakes, but Torn, as a local sheriff, is. In his eccentric being, defined by a southern accent so marble-mouthed you almost lean forward in your seat to try and make it out, embodying an older, weirder America, where it still seemed so vast, where secrets seemingly so preposterous no one could ever believe them might remain tucked away out of sight, destined only to be found by accident.

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