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Ambassador, The

MGM // R // May 16, 2011
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Casey Burchby | posted June 18, 2011 | E-mail the Author
The Ambassador
is a lot of ridiculous fun with a bizarre combination of elements, including
a very 1980s thriller milieu involving middle eastern political strife
and terrorism, a 1930s pulp adventure plot, and two major stars of yesteryear
- Robert Mitchum and Rock Hudson (his last film) - being directed by
the capable and prolific J. Lee Thompson. Throw in good supporting performances
by Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn and former Blofeld Donald Pleasance, and
you have an entertaining (and somewhat campy) action picture that's
hiding a few interesting surprises.




The film opens with United States ambassador to Isreal Peter Hacker
(Mitchum) and his security aide Frank Stevenson (Hudson) traveling out
into the Judean desert to secretly meet with representatives of the
PLO. The meeting is broken up when the group is attacked simultaneously
by the Israeli secret service and members of a radical PLO splinter
group; each of these groups first attacks the rendezvous and then each
other. It's a chaotic batshit sequence that confuses the participants
amid decent aerial camerawork and rapid-fire gunplay.



Meanwhile, Hacker's wife Alex (Burstyn) is involved in an affair with
an antiquities merchant who turns out to have ties to the PLO. The same
splinter group that attacked Hacker's desert meet with the PLO is tracking
Alex's movements and films her illicit trysts, using the footage to
blackmail Hacker into desisting from his attempts at diplomacy among
the various interested parties. (I would be remiss if I did not at least
mention the, uh, two surprises that Burstyn - aged 52 at the time of
the film's production - provides in these early scenes.)



As far as the story goes, it's a pulpy mess of cliches and easy action-film
tropes. But the cast keeps things interesting, especially the odd dynamic
between Mitchum and Burstyn's characters. These middle-aged globe-trotting
bureaucrats don't have much of a marriage, and when Burstyn's affair
is revealed, Mitchum's response is more empathetic than angry. The situation
ends up bringing them closer together. I don't know how realistic this
scenario is, but the actors bring it off well, sharing a world-weary
closeness that grows interestingly as the film goes on.




Other aspects of the film are muddled at best - particularly the conclusion,
which features gathering of students from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, who have convened at Hacker's behest to talk peacefully about
a way forward. They wind up being massacred by the machine guns of the
PLO splinter group in a violent sequence that eerily prefigures (at
least in some respects) the 1987 Mecca massacre. It's a bloody scene
that, like much of the film in general, doesn't accomplish much dramatically
while maintaining the highest standard of sensationalism. Still,
The Ambassador
is weird, choppy fun that is maintained by a cast
of legendary Hollywood stars.





The DVD




Released by the MGM M.O.D. label, The Ambassador looks surprisingly
good in its first-ever incarnation on DVD. The transfer is nothing short
of outstanding. This nearly 30-year-old film looks almost new. Colors
are even, contrast is strong, and the clarity of the picture is surprising.
The stereo soundtrack is fairly strong as well. The broad mix is well-balanced
although the music can be a tad on the loud side. There are no extras.





Final Thoughts



Mitchum, Hudson, Burstyn, and Pleasance in a 1980s middle east thriller
directed by J. Lee Thompson. It's as good as it sounds, if not much
better. A well-acted, entertaining throwback of a film. Recommended.

Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.

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