Lost somewhere in between Stallone’s highly successful Rocky and Rambo franchises, Nighthawks is an underrated gem in action cinema and is notable for introducing Rutger Hauer to American audiences and Sly kicking ass in drag.
Nighthawks revolves around two New York undercover cops DaSilva (Stallone) and Fox (Billy Dee Williams) who are assembled by a British Counter-terrorist specialist Hartman (Nigel Davenport) to form a task force to stop Wulfgar (Rutger Hauer) a dangerous international terrorist who has fled to New York.
The film opens with a sting set up by DaSilva and Fox to foil muggings in the city. Three thugs expecting to rob a helpless looking woman are set upon by DaSilva in a blonde wig and dress! This flick is easily worth a watch just for this scene alone! This scene introduces us to DaSilva and Fox’s dedicated approach to law enforcement, cops willing to go the extra mile to catch their man.
A drug bust shown in a later scene enforces their dedication and integrity when they refuse to be bribed. DaSilva does things by the book and defuses a situation between Fox and a suspect when things get too rough. He never goes against what he thinks is morally or ethically wrong. These guys are hard hitting, no nonsense cops, NYPD’s finest. This dedication comes at a cost however DaSilva’s marriage is a mess because he has neglected it in order to give the job 100%.
Stallone plays the part perfectly and this role is one of the blueprints for his trademark roles as a down on his luck tough guy with a lot of heart pushed to his limits trying to do the right thing. Along with Copland this is one of his more effective portrayals of a police officer, opting for realism instead of the over the top comic book styled characters he portrayed in Cobra and Tango & Cash.
We are introduced to Wulfgar in a similar fashion. Wulfgar charmingly flirts with a woman at a department store while he hides a bomb under the counter. The department store explodes as Wulfgar leaves casually to make a phone call to the press stating that “the Wulfgar command has a long reach and will strike at its enemies wherever they may be”. Wulfgar is cold hearted and merciless never hesitating exact revenge on those who get in the way of his agenda of achieving notoriety as the world’s most dangerous terrorist. Wulfgar dispatches of colleagues and innocent people throughout the film with no pity. Hauer plays the part with glee creating one of action cinema’s most villainous protagonists. Rutger Hauer’s American debut is a very powerful performance and is easily as effective as his more widely known roles in Blade Runner and The Hitcher.
After the department store bombing Wulfgar is cut loose by his financers who turn him into the police. Wulfgar eludes the police and flees to New York determined further his vicious reputation. Hartman (Nigel Davenport) is in pursuit and with the help of the NYPD forms a task force to try and put an end to Wulfgar’s reign of terror and protect the U.N representatives who are attending a function in the city. DaSilva and Wulfgar play a cat and mouse game wrecking havoc across the city that collides head to head when Wulfgar hijacks the Roosevelt Island Tram. Stallone preformed the cable car stunts suspended 230 feet without a stunt double. Wulfgar again escapes DaSilva and the task force and goes gunning for DaSilva’s wife (Lindsay Wagner) resulting in the final showdown between the two.
One of the more effective cop flicks of the genre Nighthawks easily holds its own with the likes of Dirty Harry, The French Connection and Lethal Weapon.Bruce Malmuth’s direction is superb and gives the film a gritty hard-boiled noir like tone that you just don’t see in modern action films. He pulls the best out of a strong cast (keep an eye out for Maniac’s Joe Spinell) and the film is fast paced and energetic. Malmuth later returned back to the genre in 1990 directing the Seagal vehicle Hard To Kill.
The DVD is disappointing because it is just a reissue of the previous bare bones R4 Universal release with the Umbrella logo tacked on the start. It’d be good to see a release with more comprehensive extras especially if the more bloodthirsty ending that the studio edited out is unearthed. The original poster artwork of the Universal release is dropped in favour of a more modern design that just doesn’t do the film justice.
Packaging/extras gripes aside it’s great to see this film released again because it’s one of Stallone’s films showing that there’s a lot more to his arsenal than the Rocky and Rambo flicks. Hopefully after the recent success of John Rambo a few more action fans pick it up and discover this sadly overlooked gem.
DIRECTOR(S): Bruce Malmuth | COUNTRY: USA | YEAR 1981 | DISTRIBUTOR(S): Vendetta Films | RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes