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Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Long Kiss Goodnight - A Film Review


The Long Kiss Goodnight is a 1996 action movie starring Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson, was written by Shane Black, and directed by Renny Harlin. It is both reminiscent of the Christmas settings of previous Shane Black-written movies (Lethal Weapon), kidnapping as a plot device in Black’s previous movies (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout), and the large action sequences of Renny Harlin’s previous movies (Cliffhanger, Die Hard 2, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master).T he movie is about an ordinary woman named Samantha Caine (Davis) who is an amnesiac, and finds out that she was a C.I.A. assassin named Charly Baltimore, and her former comrades are out looking for her. She teams up with private detective Mitch Hennessy (Jackson) to re-discover her past and get even with those who tried to kill her, as well as prevent a bomb plot from happening. It is an exciting action movie to watch, with Davis and Jackson playing against type in their respective roles: Davis as an action heroine, Jackson as a sidekick in need of rescue. Not only are the action sequences outstanding, but the film takes its time in introducing the characters, giving their backstory, and letting the audience get to know them instead of just getting straight into action with no context. It is a lot of fun to watch, and is a greatly underrated action film.

The film begins with a credit sequence giving background to Charly Baltimore’s life, with her C.I.A. file in flashes. But for eight years, due to an accident, she only knows herself as Samantha Caine, wife, mother, and schoolteacher in a small town in Pennsylvania. She knows that isn’t who she really is, but it fits her life for now, and she loves her family.

Mitch Hennessy is a cheap private detective who cheats, steals, and lies to get results for clients and make money. He is an ex-con, with fractured relationships with his ex-wife and son (his ex-wife makes her son return any gifts he receives from Hennessy out of fear that they are stolen goods), and lives a modest day-to-day life.

But when Samantha receives a head injury in a car accident, her skills as an assassin are re-ignited. She can break necks with the ease of turning a screw as she kills both a deer and a fellow assassin, and, in a particularly fun sequence, she discovers her knife skills while chopping vegetables with her family. She is elated, going, “I’m a chef!” and quickly chopping carrots, peppers, onions, and the like, until she throws a knife at a tomato tossed to her, which pins the tomato dead center to the wall. The uncomfortable silence is broken by these three words: “Chefs do that.”

It should be noted that there are similarities between Charly Baltimore and Jason Bourne. The character of Jason Bourne appeared in novels by Robert Ludlom, which were published in between 1980 and 1990. Both Bourne and Baltimore are amnesiacs who find out they were assassins, and they retained their reflexes with weapons and hand-to-hand combat as their memory returned of their past lives. There would have been more comparison had the character of Charly Baltimore been a man, as was considered by New Line Cinema. The character would have been named Sam Caine/Charlie Baltimore, and Steven Seagal and Sylvester Stallone were considered for the role. It was better that the character be a woman, as it is less usual to see an action heroine in films, and less generic. Also, Brian Cox appears in both this movie and The Bourne Identity, playing C.I.A. characters who reveal secrets to the amnesiac heroes.
The film not only works because of the fantastic action sequences (a particular stunner involves Baltimore tied to a water wheel and being held underwater for minutes at a time), but the sly humor and one-liners that Shane Black injects into his scripts. Upon learning about her assassin past and defending her current suburban life, she says, “It’s not a fantasy, I’m in the goddamn PTA!” Mitch Hennessy has a running joke of singing blues riffs to himself to the tune of Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy,” singing about stuff he has to do in order to remember it. And this exchange when Hennessey comes to Baltimore’s defense during a mugging:

           Hennessy: (brandishing a gun) This ain’t no ham on rye, pal.”
Baltimore: “What are you doing here?”
Hennessy: “Saving your life. I would’ve gotten here sooner, but I was thinkin’ up that ‘ham on rye’ line.”

As Samantha Caine becomes Charly Baltimore, she becomes colder and tougher, speaking more brusquely, and is determined to bury Samantha, as if she was a lie, including forgetting about her husband and daughter. She realizes that she can be both the tough-as-nails assassin Charly while also being the loving and nurturing wife and mother Samantha, and that it doesn’t have to be an either/or choice.

While Samuel L. Jackson is most well-known for playing profane, cocksure, badass heroes, he excels in playing the sidekick in this movie. He is an ordinary guy who is a crook, but is in way over his head with the C.I.A. conspiracy plots and assassins and craziness of it all. Jackson’s performance grounds the movie in reality, as the audience surrogate, but also as a regular person who is in confusion and amazement at the insanity going on around him. He is rescued by Baltimore several times throughout the movie, in an interesting role reversal of heroes and damsels. Hennessy notes this occurrence in an exchange with Baltimore:

Hennessy: “Sam, I’ll be waiting for you to come rescue me.”
Baltimore: “I’ll be just a minute.”

A flaw in this movie is the casting of Craig Bierko as Baltimore’s ex-flame and a C.I.A. agent named Timothy who is one of the main villains of the movie. Bierko is just obnoxious to watch in this movie. He has little to no charisma, and seems less threatening than the other villains played by David Morse (who only appears in two scenes, but is a much more convincing villain in that brief amount of time) and Patrick Malahide. He is a very forgettable villain in this movie, despite being a professional and emotional tie to Charly. His voice is irritating, his smug face makes him unbearable, and not in a way of meaning he is a great or intimidating villain. Rather, his continued presence makes the audience think, “Just die already.”

Aside from a poor casting choice for the villain, the rest of The Long Kiss Goodnight is solid. It has interesting and charismatic heroes, fantastic action sequences, excellent cinematography, a sly sense of humor, and is fun to watch all the way through.

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