Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
A very old-fashioned spy thriller goosed up with the politics of the beginning of the Reagan years, Firefox is
lesser Clint Eastwood, more interesting for what it says about its times than as an entertainment.
An ex-Vietnam fighter pilot who suffers from debilitating mental flashbacks to his war experience,
Major Mitchell Gant (Clint Eastwood) is recruited by Air Force intelligence man Captain Buckholz (David Huffman) to
sneak into the Soviet Union disguised as a businessman. There, dissident Pavel Upenskoy (Warren Clarke) spirits him
out of Moscow to a military base, where three scientists (Nigel Hawthorne, Dimitra Arliss, Ronald Lacey) help him
steal Russia's new super MIG fighter, which can go faster than Mach 5 and fires its weaponry by the pilot's
thought control. The scientists all expect to be killed after finishing the project, as they are dissident Jews; Gant
is impressed by the self-sacrifice of his eager helpers, who would do anything to hurt the KGB, or to help the freedom-loving
This one's a big, "Sigh', an okay thriller that doesn't work up much suspense - when Eastwood finally gets to the plane, he
just flies away with it, practically without incident. Eastwood's flashback memories of seeing a little Vietnamese girl
burned by Napalm remain a gimmick to humanize him, and to remind us that fighter pilots have feelings too. Whatever misgivings
Major Gant may have about his new mission are quickly dispelled by the Cold War's two major trump cards: Freedom is at
stake, and, Man, the Hardware is Cool!
Gant's fast trip across Moscow and out to the airbase, (actually filmed in and around Vienna, Austria) pairs him with a quick
sucession of tough dissidents who gladly resist their KGB oppressors. The only question tough-guy Warren Clarke (from
A Clockwork Orange, 11 years previous) has, is whether Gant can really fly the Super-Plane or not. Since his
wife has been imprisoned since the '68 Czech uprising, and the KGB could swoop down on him at any time, Clarke's activity
is voluntarily suicidal. He'll die happy if he knows Gant is winging his way to Freedom. The Jewish scientists also
welcome Gant with a morbid, "Glad to see you're here to steal the plane,
after which we'll all die horrible deaths" sort of introduction. The USSR is so hostile and its police so repressive (no
arguments there), the dissidents' stance is just short of Christian martyrs being thrown to the lions.
Firefox is solid politics from one end to the other, making it impossible to discuss apolitically. It's one of a
number of films extolling the glory of high-tech weaponry, a military-industrial sub-genre that (coincidentally?) sprung
up just as Reagan
came into office - others are Blue Thunder, Wrong is Right and Deal of the Century. Military men and
advisors can barely contain their emotions as they rattle off the MIG-31's incredible stats. The gung-ho cleancut officer
recruiter just has to hint that Gant'll be flying the most advanced kick-ass plane ever built, and Gant's signing up. Forget
the newspapers, man, cool weaponry is what it's all about.
We spend plenty of time watching some ineffectual Russians trying to stop our modern Jason from making off with their flying
fleece, including an insultingly moronic party official who constantly threatens everyone around
him. The main security agent is played by one of the
cowardly imperial officers from The Empire Strikes Back, and the main nasty Nazi from Raiders of the Lost Ark,
Wolf Kahler, is on board as a slimy politico as well. The conception of Russians is as primitive as an hysterical film
from the 50s, like Red Planet Mars.
While the allied command (this appears to be an Anglo-American mission) wring their hands, led by a
wonderfully hammy Freddie Jones, the Russkies deliver packaged political messages. We're assured from the mouths of our
enemies that the reason America has to steal the MIG-31, is because we've been so weak and lazy ... and fallen way, way
behind in the weapons race. The ugly thing
about Firefox is that it so slavishly reinforces Star Wars Initiative-type thinking. Even though we were the
greatest makers of weapons of all kinds, it's the Russians who are the ones coming up with hi-tech horrors. In the 1980s,
the Soviets were so economically-busted, they flew many of their nuclear patrol
missions pretending to have bombs on board,.
Firefox is the only Clint Eastwood movie that succumbed to the post-Star Wars craze for special effects, and
cost a sizeable chunk of change. Most Eastwood films were very modestly budgeted, so he must either have felt very patriotic, or
wanted to shoot down spaceships like Luke Skywalker. Seen today, the flying sequences no longer look very good, with their fast-motion backgrounds and
matted jet plane models, but they were plenty impressive in '82, a full 11 years before the big launch of CGI. I don't
know how realistic the idea is, but the shots of a lowflying Firefox mowing down forests in a shock wave of snow and debris
are certainly arresting, like the wake left behind the cartoon Road Runner. But the childish enterprise shows its hand when
the two planes thread their way through a very long and twisty canyon. It's an imitation of the Death Star's trench scene, that
effects whiz John Dykstra and Richard Edlund had perfected a few years before.
Curiously, the Mach-5 dogfight isn't all that exciting, and the ending comes without much of a kick. Audiences would go
nuts three years later when real jets fought in Top Gun, cut to a music-video beat. From then on it's been full
military cooperation for any studio production that serves as a commercial for the armed forces.
Warner's DVD of Firefox is an enhanced widescreen disc of this very attractively-shot film. The effects
sequences tend to look grainer but not by much. Maurice Jarre's score is handsomely reproduced on the tracks, and there's good
separation on the sound-barrier-breaking sound effects.
For an extra, there's a lengthy English tele docu called Clint Eastwood Director, that interviews Clint and
follows him around during shooting. It ends with the film's premiere in Washington D.C., with all of Reagan's Washington
in attendance - Edwin Meese, etc. Casper Weinburger poses with Clint for a photo op. It's almost as if this epic about
snookering the Evil Empire was a gift-film produced as a favor to the White House ... oops, can't get political.
The 'scope trailer for Firefox is another extra. It sells the film as such a lowbrow action film, you can almost see
Chuck Norris & company watching it and taking notes for their 'patriotic' films.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Supplements: English docu, trailer
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: October 29, 2002
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson