Friday 21 March 2014

Movie Review: Black Rain (1989)

A stylish action thriller set mostly in Tokyo, Black Rain is dark, violent and intense.

Divorced and financially strapped New York City police detective Nick Conklin (Michael Douglas) is gradually attracting the interest of police corruption investigators, on suspicion that he may be skimming from the proceeds of crime. Nick and his partner Charlie Vincent (Andy Garcia) then witness a bloody theft involving rival Japanese criminals, and arrest the murderous gang leader Koji Sato (Yusaku Matsuda). Nick and Charlie are given the assignment to escort Sato back to Tokyo and hand him over to Japanese enforcement authorities.

Upon arrival Nick is duped by Sato's associates, allowing the prisoner to escape. A humiliated Nick and the more carefree Charlie decide to stay in Tokyo to make up for their blunder, and they team up with Tokyo detective Masahiro "Masa" Matsumoto (Ken Takakura) to try and track down Sato. The trail leads to a gang war over precious near-perfect currency forgery plates, and a mysterious American woman named Joyce (Kate Capshaw) who hangs out at nightclubs and knows more than she is willing to tell. Before long Nick and Charlie find themselves targets of Sato's brutality, as the hunters become the hunted.

What Black Rain lacks in plot cohesiveness, it makes up for in a dazzling visual aesthetic. Director Ridley Scott looks for playful light, shadows, fire, smoke and ceiling fans to enliven most scenes, and creates plenty to engage the eye even when the plot itself is just above average.

Artistic touches also ensure that events are just muddled enough to create uncertainty, Scott using his characters' limited point of view, the language barrier or a combination of physical and light obstacles to inject a level of realistic doubt about exactly what is unfolding. It's an effective representation of the culture shock facing Nick as he tries to reclaim his lost pride.

The film moves along at a good pace, Nick, Charlie and Masa never standing still in pursuit of Sato and his gang, while the criminals themselves are engaged in a bloody internal war for control of the currency forgery trade. Scott and screenwriters Craig Bolotin and Warren Lewis still find time for a few character bonding scenes, Charlie and Masa particularly hitting it off at the karaoke bar thanks to the universal language of Ray Charles.

Nick is provided with a darker background, not just as the typical anti-authoritarian cop but also an officer possibly tempted to dip into the cookie jar that he is supposed to be protecting. Douglas brings plenty of vigour and pent-up anger to the role, portraying Nick's mounting frustration with a life spent battling against bureaucrats in suits and ever-increasing bills, and this before he has to track down a killer in a foreign city. Garcia provides balance as the much more relaxed and likeable Charlie, able to loosen up and more easily get along with the Tokyo detectives.

Black Rain may lack a downpour of original ideas, but it does provide a good drizzle of creatively filmed action.

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