I felt bad for calling Clint Eastwood a “right-wing nut-job” yesterday. After all, I don’t know the guy. Maybe he’s a decent bloke! So, possibly by way of penance, I sat down last night to revisit his 1982 action film ‘Firefox’, a movie I hadn’t seen since I was a teenager.
“What a right-wing nut-job!” I exclaimed as the closing credits rolled.
‘Firefox’ is the sort of movie that Leonardo DiCaprio would be attempting to insert into Ronald Reagan’s mind if the movie ‘Inception’ (2010) was about creating the Strategic Defence Initiative in the 1980’s. It’s another of Clint’s Neo-Conservative fever-dreams where the Russians are eeeeeeevil, militarism is fetishised and Vietnam was a tragedy for America, not the Vietnamese. Tonally, technically and morally the film is an almost incoherent mess which is odd considering it’s also stripped down to the point of dramatic inertia with Eastwood’s character having almost ZERO agency or initiative at all as he goes from point A to point B with the speed and élan of an arthritic slinky creaking down some stairs.
The plot is aggressively simple — Eastwood has to steal a plane called Firefox… and that’s it. That’s all he has to do. Unfortunately this means that he, literally, has nothing to do (and neither do we) until he steals the plane so, until then, he’s ferried around by a conveyer-belt of various characters who escort him to the next character who then lead him to the next check-point with almost nothing happening in between.
It’s a problem with the tension or, more accurately, the lack of it resulting in the film having to manufacture and fabricate some artificially. The only danger Eastwood faces is that the Soviet’s are eeeevil and run a police state meaning all Eastwood has to do is get inside Russia and not fuck up. Yet he immediately starts acting like an asshole and immediately fucking up. A Russian passport inspector asks him some probing questions — because the movie desperately needs some form of tension — and Eastwood, who can’t play vulnerable to save his life, responds in a way that is meant to be of a man under pressure but just makes him come across as a prick; I actually wanted to Russians to shoot him at several points.
His sophisticated plan, once inside the USSR, is to throw the eeeeevil KGB off his scent by running around pretending he needs the toilet. He does this a lot, as in for the first 45 minutes or so. There is A LOT of toilet action in this movie with Eastwood complaining to the Soviet authorities about his tummy problems (The Turd Man?). After fucking up and killing a KGB agent by mistake, because again the film needs to artificially inject some drama, Eastwood is pin-balled from one resistance member to another whilst literally doing nothing other than scowling and making anti-Semitic remarks and needing the toilet.
Hang on… resistance fighters? This is another issue with ‘Firefox’ in that it depicts the eeeevil Soviets in such an exaggeratedly cartoonish manner they end up morphing into WW II Nazis who execute their own citizens by firing squad and generally behave in a manner that, problematic though the USSR must have been, I’m pretty certain they didn’t behave quite like this. It was then that the movie started to remind me of ‘Top Secret’ (1984) where the Soviets, somehow, act like Nazis for no other reason than they are the bad guys and that’s all we need to know with the only good Russians being the ones prepared to betray their own nation and homeland so a right-wing nut-job can steal, what is essentially, a VIC 20 with wings.
Anyway, after a bizarrely structured opening one hour and twenty minutes — it’s effectively a straight line dramatically speaking where nothing happens; this film doesn’t so much gallop along as simply dribbles or oozes its way forward — Eastwood steals the plane so the film can finally take-off… and fly straight into a brick wall. Because now the movie pulls something else out of its ass to really hike up the dramatic tension and it’s a stroke of genius. It’s called — explaining everything that’s just happened on screen to an elderly man. You see, nothing increases that sensation of pumping adrenaline in your system than stopping every two minutes after something has occurred to explain everything IN PAINSTAKING DETAIL to a white-haired, borderline senile member of the politburo. It’s a move on Eastwood’s part as director that should be held up in film schools as a perfect example of how to completely destroy any dramatic momentum, any sense of immersion, in your movie entirely.
Either way, Eastwood and Firefox are now up in the air and blasting their way towards that other classic example of keeping the blisteringly energetic pace barrelling along — stopping to refuel!
It’s at this point, for me, where watching ‘Firefox’ becomes such a saggy experience it starts resembling watching a balloon slowly deflate. And stupidly, as though the balloon doesn’t actually quite know exactly what it’s doing. For example — the big innovation Firefox has is that its weapon systems are thought controlled. This means all Eastwood has to do is think ‘fire rear missiles’, or whatever, in Russian and Firefox will do so. The only problem is that Eastwood says these commands out loud and, at the end, even struggles to do that correctly meaning it would be vastly more effective, easier and quicker if the weapons systems were activated by, I don’t know, simply pressing some FUCKING BUTTONS! It just makes no sense.
‘Firefox’ is a sluggish, mean-spirited movie that doesn’t seem to know if it is a serious piece of Cold War espionage or a slice of James Bond escapist nonsense so it ultimately falls in between and ends up as nonsense taking itself seriously and that’s a kiss of death for films like this. Eastwood doesn’t help matters by being completely miscast in his own movie — this might be the most unlikable character he’s ever played as there is nothing to this guy at all to care about in the slightest — as well as the fact his directing is not just uninspired or lacklustre but, at times, is downright awful.
It’s annoying because there’s some good stuff in here and the dedication to focusing purely on Eastwood and the plane is laudable (there are no women in this movie apart from one and she gets shot) but it also means there’s nothing else to care about or invest in. Everyone is a stereotype, the politics are deplorable and the general atmosphere is one that’s inappropriately dark considering how fucking silly it all ultimately is. It almost feels like the work of a right-wing nut-job.