Nighthawks – Review

Second Chance Cinema reviews another overlooked classic film. This time the 1981 thriller Nighthawks starring Sylvester Stallone, Billy Dee Williams and Rutger Hauer comes under the Moviescramble spotlight.

The story is split in the beginning. The two New York Police detectives DaSilva and Fox are introduced (Stallone and Williams) in an undercover operation to arrest street muggers. After a well-paced chase sequence, the mugger is apprehended by DaSilva who is the bait in the operation. He makes quite the fetching sight, kitted out as a woman with sensible shoes on.  At the same time, we are introduced to the ideological terrorist Wulfgar (Hauer) as he sets off a bomb in a department store in London. He is pursued by the Police and has to move his operation to New York via a stop off in Paris for some minor cosmetic surgery as the authorities now have his photograph. In New York, an anti-terrorist task force is being set up and DaSilva and Fox are transferred over. Reluctant at first, not really seeing the point of the task force the point is driven home during the training by the instructor and when Wolfgar strikes in New York for the first time. Now its a game of cat and mouse with DaSilva and Fox using their local knowledge to try to find Wulfgar before he strikes again.

This is a bit of a rarity in Sylvester Stallone’s movie career. Sure he is a no-nonsense cop but in this part, he is required to use his intellect more than his bulging muscles. He carries this off convincingly. Sly proves he can actually act. At one point after the first Rambo film, Sly became a parody of himself and everything he was in seemed to be by the numbers nonsense. Without the aid of subtitles, you can understand every sentence he utters. His acting is understated with only one scene where he raises his voice to emphasise his frustration. The part he is playing is a familiar one. He is a hard-nosed cop who lives for the job. It defines him. At the expense of everything else, he devotes himself to tackling crime. One subplot involves his attempts to reconcile with his ex-wife (Lindsay Wagner). They have an obvious connection even though the job has pulled them apart. It feels a little tacked on but this relationship and his connection to a real person has an important bearing in the outcome of the film.

Rutger Hauer in an early English-speaking part is menacing as the terrorist. He has a certain stillness to his performance in this film that lends an air of unease. You never quite know what he will do but get the feeling that he is capable of a great deal of evil. Throughout the early part of the film, the character is developed well, giving insights into his motivation. The part seems like a thinly disguised portrayal of a real-life celebrity terrorist of the late seventies. I’m thinking Carlos the Jackal here but others spring to mind.

Billy Dee Williams does not have a whole lot to do in this. Part sidekick,  part plot forwarding device for most of the film. He is a good foil to the DaSilva character in that he compliments him enabling them to be an effective team.

This was the directorial debut of Bruce Malmuth. The city of New York is made to look and feel suitably grimy and gloomy as required. remember this was the time when disco was at its height. The clothing was all flared, with lots of leather. DaSilva wears a particularly fine line in brown leather trench coats. The music is typical seventies and eighties fare with a mixture of funk, disco and rock tracks. All good stuff that compliments the scenes.

Overall a quality piece of Work. recommended if you want to see a genuine Sylvester Stallone acting performance.


John McArthur
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