Stallone Month: Sylvester Stallone and Billy Dee Williams are…NIGHTHAWKS!

Nighthawks, the 1981 film from director Bruce Malmuth and screenwriter David Shaber, sets itself up as a gritty New York City crime drama. The opening features blighted locations from the city’s darkest days, there’s a strong and stupidly simple anti-drug message, and there’s even a police lieutenant with a strong temper. I was expecting a cross between Dirty Harry and The French Connection with that setup. But instead of chasing after some drug lords or a typical big city psycho, the heroes of Nighthawks, NYPD Detective Sergeants Deke DaSilva and Matthew Fox (Sly and Williams), are drafted into a new unit that is after terrorists.

That’s right, folks. A film from 1981 explored the means and methods of combating international terrorism in New York City. Terrorism has been around for a while, now.

The bad guy in this film is Wulfgar (Rutger Hauer), a mercenary in the world of terrorism. He doesn’t seem to have any sort of ideology other than making the governments of the western world bleed. He’ll hire himself out to the Irish Republicans or the Iranians with no thought as to what their goals may be. When viewers first see him, he’s blowing up a pub in London. This sets up his bona fides nicely. A bit more globe hopping lands Wulfgar in New York, where the anti-terrorism task force is, they think, ready for him.

Wulfgar has big plans for the city, which seems to include doing lots of disco dancing and spending quality time with the ladies. Law enforcement can’t figure out exactly what he’s up to when it comes to terrorism, but they do know it involves the United Nations in some way.

Meanwhile, Deke is feeling a little conflicted about being on the task force. As he rightly points out to its lead, Peter Hartman of Scotland Yard (Nigel Davenport), cops aren’t supposed to just kill criminals when they find them. But this is anti-terrorism, and that means killing the bad guy, period. This little flash of conscience doesn’t last past Deke’s first encounter with Wulfgar, and his change in attitude is so abrupt that Deke and Hartman, once at each other’s throats, make dinner plans together. I’m not exaggerating. The plan is to get some Chinese. You know, nothing fancy.

Eventually, a final confrontation occurs, involving Wulfgar’s partner in terror, Shakka Kapoor (Persis Khambatta), and the Roosevelt Island tram. For a flick whose ambitions stayed grounded throughout, this is a grand location for a finale. It’s not used to perfection, and after it’s over, it turns out there’s still more movie.

Stylistically this film is great, but it’s plenty stupid. The dialog is so simple that I envy the black and white world in which these characters inhabit. Stallone is decent, showing a range and professionalism beyond that of most of the cast that really surprised me. I tend to remember Stallone as being a wooden actor, but every time I see one of his films I’m reminded that’s silly and unfair. He looks like Oscar material compared to Billy Dee Williams. I really think...

Oh my God that was the best ending ever! That was absolutely incredible. This is what happens when I write the bulk of a review before I watch the ending of a film. I did not see that coming. I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t. I was so focused on how much I just wanted the film to end that I was left wide open for a real howler of a finish. Thank you, Nighthawks. I am entertained.