So we all know Clint for his westerns, but you should also know him for his political thrillers. ‘Firefox’ was one of his first political thrillers in the midst of some tough cop/crime action flicks and stupid crap involving an orangutan. Naturally it was based on a novel of the same name which I’ve never heard of or read, so I am unable to compare the two.
The plot: Put simply, Major Mitchell Gant (Clint) is a Nam veteran who can fly anything and can also speak Russian (thanks to his Russian mother). He is brought back into action on a joint Anglo-American mission to steal a highly advanced Russian jet fighter (code name Firefox) which can hit mach 6, is invisible to radar, and can fire missiles controlled by the pilots mind. He is dropped into Russia undercover. He must reach and secure the jet fighter with the help of Russian dissidents. However, the KGB are aware of his presence and are hot on his heels. Yep, its a fictional cold war thriller.
The film is kinda split into two halves really, the first part follows Gant as he enters the Soviet Union, meets up with Soviet dissidents, and moves from place to place trying to stay one step ahead of the KGB. The second part follows Gant piloting the Firefox jet as he tries to evade Russian attempts to bring him down whilst trying to flee Russian airspace.
For the most part the first half of the film in Russia is slow moving but with solid tension. The film wasn’t actually shot in Russia due to actual American-Russian cold war unease so Austria stood in for locations. This is made abundantly clear in a shot showing Gant walking past Red Square in Moscow; its a horrendously obvious and amusing bluescreen shot. It is also kinda amusing watching Clint in this role because if anyone stood out from the crowd as a possible US spy in Moscow, it would be Gant. The man is clearly on the ropes every time he speaks to an official. He’s twitchy, sweating, his eyes are darting about the place, he just looks worried as feck. Its so stupid how no Russian official ever pulls him in for further questioning.
I can’t deny it is quite exciting to watch Gant evade the KGB one scene after another. The sequence where Gant is trying to leave a subway station quickly before a killed guard is discovered is very good. The Russian dissidents were slightly over the top though I thought, a bit too gruff and merciless, but well acted. They also came across as too obvious for my liking, basically everyone looks so damn guilty in this film. At times it did feel like you were watching a film set in Nazi Germany, but I’m assuming its relatively accurate for the period. Seems very odd that people had to show their ID papers constantly, almost everywhere, but hey it was effective.
I do think the film would have been even more effective if all Russian characters had spoken in Russian with English subs, ditto for the Americans. Although listening to Clint speak Russian did sound rather off, an understandably difficult task. I’m still not entirely sure if Gant was supposed to be talking Russian (when speaking English) when communicating with various Russian dissidents at certain points in the film. Don’t think so but its possible.
The second half of the movie sees Gant stealing the Firefox jet from within a Bond-esque Russian military base complete with white coat scientists who get brutally gunned down after exposing themselves as dissidents. The whole sequence isn’t quite as thrilling as Bond but instead quite dark and sobering. The jet itself is a very impressive full scale model which looks a bit like the Lockheed Blackbird aircraft. Whilst the air suit Gant wears is a very cool sexy and futuristic all black affair with slick helmet and visor. All the interior cockpit shots and sequences do look very authentic and of course very cool. The constant light and cloud reflections zipping off Gant’s visor (along with the cockpit interior) does sell the illusion perfectly.
The exterior sequences for the aircraft (and dogfight sequence) were filmed using a new technique from John Dykstra called ‘reverse bluescreen’. This essentially enabled the shiny black model aircraft to appear to be flying against clear blue skies and glimmering white snow without bluescreen leakage on the model. This does work but naturally things have moved on somewhat since 1982 so by today’s standards it still all looks a bit hokey. Some shots do look good, the flyby effect on land and sea is quite nice as the jet zooms overhead. The odd model shot does look pretty sweet but in all honesty a lot of it looks very fake. The more elaborate the aerial manoeuvre, the more fake looking unfortunately.
All in all this is definitely a movie of two halves (have I mentioned that?). The first half is a far more serious affair of infiltration and espionage. Its dark tense and engaging despite how simplistic it all is. On the other hand the second half becomes much more of an action movie with a more jingoistic vibe. Eastwood certainly seems to feel more at home when in the cockpit of an ultra cool armoured killing machine being an all American action hero (who somehow forgets about rear firing missiles despite being the best of the best). Yes in all honesty Eastwood probably wasn’t the best choice for the main role here (I know he gave himself the role). He’s as wooden as a very wrinkled narrow piece of wood and is clearly outdone by his Russian dissident costar (Warren Clarke), and pretty much all of the Russian military cast.
A good solid reliable Eastwood film which ironically would probably have been much better if Eastwood wasn’t in the leading role. He is easily the weakest element in his own movie.