DIRECTOR: Walter Hill
May Contain Spoilers!
It’s difficult to know how best to tackle this film. On one hand, it’s a racist, violent shovenistic affair, mired by the early 80’s cliché’s and post a The French Connection aesthetic, but on the other, it’s a self-aware racist, violent and shovenistic affair, embedded with 80’s cliché’s and a knowing nod to the atmosphere of classic crime movies, such as The French Connection.
To start with, to say that the film’s plot is paper-thin would be an overstatement. It is in fact a mission statement itself, as what the intentions of director, Walter Hill’s are with this movie. This is a fast paced miss matched odd couple buddy movie, which is more interested in atmosphere than anything else. Well, on that level, at least, it works a treat.
The plot also works, but since the plot is bad guy escapes from a chain gang; he’s a cop killer; Nick Nolte wants revenge and enlist the help of convict, Eddie Murphy to track him down, then it doesn’t need to try very hard. This hinges on Nolte and Murphy’s chemistry and it works well on that note. The gritty city also plays it’s role well, as the pair, who only have 48 hours, for little reason really, to make their way through a series of convenient locations in San Francisco, such as a “Red neck” bar in the film’s stand out scene in which Murphy intimidates the entire bar of Confederates by impersonating a cop, as well as the pair fighting and bickering throughout.
At first they are distrustful of each other’s motives but come to respect each other as the hours tick by, sound familiar? Well it all started here, folks. Hill’s direction was a star here too, and without it, Nolte and Murphy’s interplay would have fallen flat. He crafted a realistic world for his characters to inhabit, with fine plot and character details which are nicely slipped in, to add weight and plausibility to his outrageous characters.
The most outrageous being the Lt., played by Frank McRae who did absolutely nothing, but shout his way through the entire movie! He was hilarious, though I doubt that was the intention, amusing maybe, but he was possibly the biggest caricature that I’ve ever seen.
Nolte growls his way through, but is somehow convincing, though some of the dialogue is quite clunky, as is Murphy as the cool cat with his $500 suit, who is only concerned with getting laid. Details such a thick layer of dust on Murphy’s convertible which had been in long-term parking for two and half years, helped too, and it seemed that, certainly on a first viewing, there were few blatant errors or questions as what was going on or why, which for an 80’s action film, was a present surprise.
So, we also have a film, which looked to be somewhat racist by today’s standard, in fact was incredibly racist. But this was a film which was clearly trying to break down these barriers, but the language and tone of some scenes would struggle to pass these days. Having said that, I felt that Hill’s movie was far from racist, with a crude character arch for Nolte, which sees him use Murphy and treat him poorly by belittling his race as well as, quite justifiably, his criminal record, to coming around to him and even apologising for his language later.
It was refreshing to see such an unpolitically correct method of dealing with the issue of racism in a positive light, certainly in the mainstream. I feel that 48 HRS. should certainly be granted some kudos for this alone. But the film as a whole was enjoyable, thought it would have been a lot funnier 30 years ago, very well-played and shot with a great atmosphere but let down by a paper-thin and almost pointless plot.
Though I would have probably loved this if I had been old enough to appreciate it at the time.