Review: Firefox Part 8 of our Eastwood Retrospective

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Known for both maintaining longstanding relationships with his crew and carefully controlling his productions— his reputation for bringing films in on schedule and under budget is almost legendary— Eastwood assumed a new role in 1982 with Firefox, stepping in as producer after the retirement of Robert Daley, with whom he had worked since Play Misty for Me.

At the height of the Cold War, the USSR develops the Firefox: the most advanced fighter plane in military history, undetectable by radar and capable of Mach 6 speeds. Threatened by this highly advanced weapon, the American government sends former Air Force pilot Mitchell Gant deep into Soviet territory in order to steal the plane and deliver it to American soil.

A narrative device as old as the action film itself, the concept of the retired soldier reluctantly brought back for one last mission for which he is the only man suitable is the springboard from which Firefox’s plot leaps. Efficient crosscutting conveys Gant’s unwilling return to his former military lifestyle, the deafening sounds and imposing visuals of a helicopter’s descent juxtaposed with his peaceful countryside jogging. Doing away almost entirely with the tough masculinity of the majority of his performances, Eastwood plays Gant with a trembling fragility, driven by the oncoming helicopter and concomitant visions of his time in Vietnam to a corner where he crouches like a terrified animal. Far from being “the best man for the job”, Gant is a cowering shadow; a man haunted by visions of war and the horrors of the death he has seen, and must now see again. To find such a portrayal— not dissimilar to that of Sylvester Stallone in First Blood, released the same year— in what sounds by its synopsis to be a fast-paced action film is a pleasant surprise, the first act of the film displaying a wounded character with depth beyond that of the typical action hero. In fact, the film reveals itself to be far more a moody espionage thriller than an action movie per se, little in the way of expensive set pieces to be found. The first half sees Gant attempting to lose his tail in Moscow; having entered the country under the guise of a Las Vegas drug smuggler, he draws attention away from his true purpose behind the iron curtain. Eastwood’s Moscow evokes Carol Reed’s Vienna— unsurprising given that Vienna actually doubled for Moscow during production— echoing the labyrinthine darkness and paranoia of The Third Man in its scenes of urban espionage. Gant is horrified by the murders required to keep his purpose secret and his presence hidden, Eastwood’s facial contortions bringing to his character that conscientiousness and morality which sets him apart from the hyper-masculinity of the typical 80s leading man. It is sad, given the promising start, that the film’s second half sees fit to make up for lost action, throwing every last cent of its 21 million dollar budget at the screen in a long string of sequences laden with special effects, explosions, high-octane chases, and not one shred of the characterization and dark drama which preceded it and made the first act so noteworthy. Descending into an expensive, clunky, and thoroughly uninteresting exercise in generic action filmmaking is a fatal misstep for what seemed initially to boast so much promise.

Though it begins like a subversive post-Vietnam action film with a conscience and an impressively conflicted protagonist, Firefox eventually turns into a lifeless slideshow of planes chasing each other, marred even further by a touch of typical Cold War era jingoism. Its first half may be worthy of attention, but all good will is lost amid the fast-paced repetition of high-speed air chases.

[notification type=”star”]43/100 – Firefox ascends into an expensive, clunky, and thoroughly uninteresting exercise in generic action filmmaking: a fatal misstep for what seemed initially to boast so much promise.[/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.