Review: The Onion Field

The Onion Field is a neo noir from 1979 based on the book by Joseph Wambaugh. Wambaugh was a Los Angeles police officer turned writer. He wrote two books before this, both made into films. He took a 6 month sabbatical from the force and wrote this classic. He soon had to leave the force after his notoriety got in the way of his job. With his bad experiences involving his previous works turned into films, he demanded to have full control of this film. He raised the money himself and made this film the way he wanted it made. We can thank Wambaugh for working hard to make a timeless classic, instead of another made for TV movie of the week.

This film is based on a true story and Wambaugh did a ton of research and interviews to get this as right as possible in his book. The same care was done for the film with Harold Becker directing. This film starts out getting to know our two cops, Karl Francis Hettinger played by John Savage and Ian James Campbell played by Ted Danson in his first film role. We also get to know Jimmy Lee ‘Youngblood’ Smith, played by Franklyn Seales, who just got out of prison. He meets Gregory Ulas Powell played by James Woods, who has some “work” for Jimmy. They soon start robbing liquor stores and traveling between Las Vegas and Los Angeles to spend their spoils on guns and cars. The two pairs soon meet in a simple traffic violation for no tail lamps. Our thieves kidnap our cops by gun point and take them to an onion field in Bakersfield. This is were all hell breaks loose. Will our thieves get away with kidnapping? Will our cops escape?

I don’t like to give away spoilers and will try my best on this one. I do want to mention that where most noir type films end, this one is just half over. We see what happens as the case goes to court and how this type of event affects our hard-boiled detective in the real world.

All four of the leads are amazing in this film! Also look for a small roles played by Christopher Lloyd and Ronny Cox. Richard Herd also has a great small scene with a very strong monologue.

This film has been on my “to watch” list for years and I finally got to it. Don’t be like me and put this to the top of your list right away if you have not seen it. This is one of the great neo noir films of the 1970’s and should be talked about more. It is an interesting story and I found the way it was told very neutral and honest.

Re-watching: Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead

Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead is a neo noir from 1995.  1995 was a pretty good year for neo noir films with The Usual Suspects, Se7en, Heat and Casino just to name a few!  That maybe why this film gets lost in the shuffle of great noir films from that year.  No, it isn’t as good as those I’ve mentioned but it is a damn good movie.

The film is directed by Gary Fleder and written by Scott Rosenberg with our top billed star being Andy Garcia.  This cast is full of great performers through out.  See if you can spot Don Cheadle, Jenny McCarthy and Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister in some of the smaller roles.

This story starts with a guy jumping a fence to get into a school playground to try to steal a little girl and gets caught.  His father, a kingpin of sorts named “The Man With The Plan” is played by Christopher Walken.  He tells Garcia how his son was in love with a girl in high school and college and that girl left him for another man and moved to California.  This girl’s new boyfriend is on his way back to Denver to ask her parents permission to marry her.  This will push Walken’s son over the edge.  He hires Garcia to take care of this.  Garcia then gets his old team back together for one last easy payoff.  The gang consists of Christopher Lloyd, William Forsythe, Bill Nunn, and Treat Williams.  The job goes horribly wrong when things get out of hand and they kill the boyfriend, then the girlfriend gets out of the van and they kill her too.  Now they are in trouble because they have killed The Man With The Plan’s only hope for his son’s future happiness and normality.  Steve Buscemi is the hit-man hired to kill our team.  Gabrielle Anwar plays Garcia’s romantic interest.  Garcia is running all over Denver trying to get his team out-of-town and spend as much time with Anwar before he has to leave town himself.  Will our team get out alive?  Will Garcia save his team and sacrifice himself?  Will he be able to talk Anwar into going with him?

This cast of characters are a blast to watch and all have their unique weaknesses.  The slang in this movie is fun and original, who doesn’t want to use terms like Boat Drinks and Buckwheats. Our gangsters handshake is interesting and has a cool story behind it, we find this out from our old-timer gangster, played by Jack Warden, who pops up from time to time telling the tourists about the good old days.

If all this sounds amazing to you, you should check out this film right away.  It is a very good neo noir that may be overshadowed by some of the best movies of all-time that came out in the same year.  That doesn’t mean this isn’t worth watching too.  For all fans of noir looking for something to watch, Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead maybe what you are looking for.