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Warner Home Entertainment
1982 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 136 min. / Street Date October 1, 2002 / $19.98
Starring Clint Eastwood, Freddie Jones, David Huffman, Warren Clarke, Ronald Lacey, Kenneth Colley, Klaus Löwitsch, Nigel Hawthorne
Cinematography Bruce Surtees
Art Direction Elayne Ceder, John Graysmark
Film Editor Ron Spang, Ferris Webster
Original Music Maurice Jarre
Special Effects John Dykstra
Written by Alex Lasker, Wendell Wellman from the novel by Craig Thomas
Produced by Clint Eastwood, Fritz Manes
Directed by Clint Eastwood

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 Americans.

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, Firefox rates:
Movie: Okay
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: English docu, trailer
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: October 29, 2002

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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