Friday, 4 November 2016

Retro Review: Black Rain (1989)

Black Rain
1989
Cast: Michael Douglas, Andy Garcia, Ken Takakura, Kate Capshaw
Genre: Action Thriller 
Worldwide Box Office Gross: $134.2 million

Plot: New York City policemen Nick and Charlie witness a murder at a bar and quickly apprehend the assailant. The killer, named Sato, is a member of Japan's infamous Yakuza mob, and Nick and Charlie must transport the gangster back to Osaka for his murder trial. There, Sato's fellow gangsters free him from police custody, forcing Nick and Charlie to scour Japan's dangerous underworld of organised crime in search of their fugitive   






'Blade Runner In Japan Offering Which Needed More Bite'

I enjoyed Aliens with Sigourney Weaver, which was directed by Ridley Scott and so when I saw Black Rain when it aired on TV one night in the 1990s, I thought it was really good. Revisiting this film today, my feelings have slightly altered since and thus, it is far from Ridley Scott's best. 

Two New York cops get hold of and accompany Japanese Yakuza member, Sato back to Osaka and as they do, get duped and they have to go and recapture him. Their search takes them to the dark underworld and they find themselves embroiled in a warfare. Can they get out before Sato finds them?  

Michael Douglas gives a somewhat gutsy performance and his role as Nick Conklin is a lot meatier. This film was released during a period in the 1980s where Douglas was riding on a crest of a wave through huge box office smashes, Romancing the Stone, Fatal Attraction, Wall Street. Black Rain sets out to portray Nick Conklin in a not so much different light to those other characters in those movies, but more than his performance is a lot more ballsy, and tough-as-nails. Nick has a bit of Gordon Gecko's brashness, and of whom is also grounded by being a good guy who doesn't get pushed around easily, nor gets taken advantage of by other people. A hot-head perhaps, who easily provokes people, he smokes, drinks, curses a lot. He has a rebellious side to him that he manages to keep under control. 

As interesting in places as Black Rain is, this is still a typically conventional and formulaic thriller with a Japanese noir twist. The aesthetics of Blade Runner can be seen in this movie: the nightclubs and neon signs are two main examples of this, there is this clash between East versus West. One may argue that Black Rain conveys a Utopian Osaka, in the same way, that in Blade Runner conveys a Utopian Los Angeles. 

That Eastern Japanese backdrop acts as a subtext that without it, Black Rain would be a generic cop movie. The script isn't that great, nor that engaging, to say the least; in fact, it was dull and too generic and there were times where it was overlong, I drifted off. The film was building up at a very slow pace and because of this, I wanted the film to hurry up and get to the exciting and interesting parts - which are few and far between. The action scenes, as minimal as they are, are good here that have an edgy feel to them and the script is derivative. I think it could do with one or two more motorcycle scenes to liven it up because those were enjoyable for me. It needed more pizazz, and that the film lacks real bite.  

Yet Douglas is a great actor; he's a terrific dramatic actor who plays bullish characters or victim- based characters well and here as Nick, this is an unconventional role that he doesn't go for very often, and one he hasn't undertaken so much during his career. He is one of those actors who can give a commanding performance, and yet, unfortunately, most of his roles are not very varied and are typecast as either the victim or sex pest. That, and but for Wall Street and Wonder Boys, unlike say, Tom Hanks and Robin Williams, for me, as great a talent he is, sometimes this is not reflected in many of the movies and roles he opts for where he becomes a prey for some lusty female. However, I did enjoy Michael Douglas as Hank in Ant Man.

Here, there were just too many characters employed, with each one allotted very little screen-time; Kate Capshaw as Joyce is criminally underused, and I felt that her character could've played a much bigger role in the movie, but she wasn't. She appeared in 2 or 3 scenes, just to make small talk with Michael Douglas's, Nick. Which was a shame. Her character was a little different to the one she played in Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom. Andy Garcia didn't make an impression on me that when his character got killed off, I wasn't sad about it. Ken Takakura as the Japanese cop, who in turn works with Nick to help bring Sato to justice. put in an admirable performance, but like Douglas's Nick, Sato is a bland character.

Looks-wise, It's sleek, stylish with hordes of black everywhere; Black Rain's visuals indicate its dystopian context and the movie's portrayal of East meets West culture and Japanese culture is fairly objective. Director Ridley Scott makes it clear in the DVD extras that the film's overriding fear is one of xenophobia. In Japan, there is a term known as ''Gaijin'' meaning foreigner. Douglas's character is everything a gaijin could be, from a negative connotation - brash, ill-tempered, arrogant. Though in contrast to many other people, I liked Michael Douglas's '80s hair in Black Rain; in fact, I liked his whole look and appearance, it made him look like a guy nobody should mess with.

The other problem that kind of got to me was that the movie only starts to get slightly more, if not more so interesting after Andy Garcia's character has his head chopped off by a biker gang.

I guess my main gripes with this film are as interesting as the context is, it just didn't wow me as much as it ought to have done.





Final Verdict:

Black Rain is virtually indistinguishable from the many other 1980s cop movies and whilst it was good in places, I felt it could have been and should have been more thrilling and exciting. This is a sub-par, at times bloated movie that is slightly elevated by Scott's visionary flair. Therefore, I won't knock Ridley Scott for opting for an alternative take on the cop formula. 

Michael Douglas gives a gutsy performance, despite the sub-par script, but with a different actor, who could carry off the action hero role, it would have made it better. It's a film that is a chore to sit through and feels very ordinary with some depth in places. It lacked the wow factor that Black Rain really needed. 

Dubbed Blade Runner in Japan, it's a shame that it just didn't have more 'oomph' and 'thrills' for a so-called thriller. Black Rain is far from the hard- edged neo-noir style action thriller that it touts itself as. This is all style, but very little substance that it makes this effort unmemorable. 

If you're after thrills, spills and even more action, you may want to look elsewhere for your fix. Henceforth, Blade Runner and Strange Days did it far better.


*Score last updated: 17 March 2017*

Overall: 



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