Greeting all and sundry!
I would like to thank Michael for the opportunity to proffer a topic that has filled hours of late night, after dinner discussion with film aficionados… Genres. Do they ever die? The obvious answer is no. Too well ingrained in the culture to suddenly expire through inattention or forgetfulness, Genres evolve. Or are re-imagined. As Clint Eastwood did with The Outlaw Josie Wales and his gritty, sometimes rain soaked Unforgiven.
Sci-Fi has done some gene splicing since the days of Forbidden Planet and The Incredible Shrinking Man and spawned equally deep, masterfully detailed and effected examples as The Matrix and Inception. While Film Noir moved from its traditional shadowy B&W to color. Did some twists and turns with characters and story to create something familiar, yet friendly to a newer audience. In the form of The Grifters, The Last Seduction and this
Neo Noir Gem: Bad Company (1995)
Derived from the mind of late, great master “Crime in the suites, political intrigue” novelist Ross Thomas. Well centered in the world of corporate espionage, extortion and sub rosa deal making that never makes the papers. Focused on a rather covert, though expensively budgeted and fronted Grimes Organization; colloquially called “The Toolshed”. Whose reason for existence is doing those tasks that grease the skids of major conglomerates and help tiresome, expensive things like Class Action Suits disappear.
Naturally, such a business would employ those of exceptional aptitude and IQ. Conversant in foreign languages, questionable moral standards. Or complete lack thereof in negotiations. So it is no surprise when Nelson Crowe. Late of the CIA and ruthlessly brought to life by Lawrence Fishburne. Breezes through a computer generated psychology battery of multiple choice questions. Well aware that his every move is being recorded through hidden cameras and microphones. Quite possibly under the curious eye of the Organization’s founder and president, Vic Grimes. (Frank Langella, rarely laconically creepier!) With whom Crowe desires a final interview and perhaps, a parlay regarding salary.
The only roadblock(s) in the way would doom a lesser mortal. A rather large payoff of $50,000 to an Iraqi colonel. That the colonel never happened and terminated Mr. Crowe’s employment with the Agency . And Margaret Wells. Executive Officer, Director of Operations and Personnel for the Grimes Organization. Ice Queen and Hatchet Lady, par excellence. Deliciously fulfilled by Ellen Barkin at her leggiest, spike heeled, Femme Fatale best. Who immediately sizes Crowe up as a potential liability. Or the answer to all of her dreams.
A test of the newly acquired asset is required. An impromptu discussion with the Grimes Organizations top client, Walter Curl. (Repulsively slimy Spaulding Gray) President of Curl Industries. Whose properties are far flung across the globe. And whose vast interests include Pharmaceuticals, Oil, Real Estate, its acquisition and development. And other shadier odds and ends. It seems that Curl Industries developed a piece of land in Washington state. Poisoned a water supply, ala Love Canal in the process. Which later resulted in the births of disabled children. The Class Action Suit is on the state Supreme Court’s docket and Curl isn’t disagreeable to settling. Though Grimes is. Wanting Curl to go to court. Even if it requires using some rather lewd photos of Walter Curl and his niece in bed to extort the correct response. Photos taken by Crowe and Wells moments before they knock on the door.
Curl folds like a cheap suit and opens up the next step in the exercise. The acquisition of a possible amenable State Supreme Court Justice. Judge Beach (David Ogden Stiers). A compulsive, degenerate gambler, who has a frightening number of markers tallying $25,000 out all over Seattle and adjacent burghs. That have been bought up by Tong associated, Bobby Birdsong (James Hong). And will soon be purchased, with interest by Crowe and his latest Wells’ assigned bird dog, Todd Stapp (Smooth, sometimes frightening, Michael Beach). Fresh from luncheon “discussion” with Justice Beach’s lifelong friend, Les Goodwin (Suave, smooth, sophisticated, Daniel Hugh Kelley). Who gives up Birdsong’s name after some discreetly applied pressure to a nerve cluster in Les’ left arm. Delivered by softly crooning Stapp between hints that he and Les could be “very good friends”.
The purchase of the markers from Birdsong goes well. Which leads to the third and final step. Buying and bribing Beach for future positive outcomes. A task that would give anyone pause. Especially Crowe. Who knows and respects all the possible outcomes, good and bad a challenge of this magnitude entails. Revealing his well founded fears to Wells and Grimes. As a Hip Wadered Grimes asks probing questions. While pursuing his love of fly fishing in his office’s stocked and rustic pond. Somewhat surprised by Crowe’s caring more about corrupting Beach than Curl Industries’ “crippled kids”.
A nasty piece of work, indeed. Made nastier by Ross Thomas. Master of the curve ball out of nowhere to upset everyone’s apple cart. Enter a clandestine meeting inside a delivery van between Crowe and Agency rep. William V “Smitty” Smithfield (Arrogant, sometimes crude Michael Murphy). Who was Crowe’s control officer in Iraq. And has leveraged Crowe with the threat of Federal time for the missing Iraqi bribe money to infiltrate and sniff around Grimes’ “Toolshed”. To see if the possibility of acquiring a clean, deniable domestic espionage “boutique” could be of some value. “Smitty” think so. And willingly fronts Crowe a cool million in an over sized briefcase to make the buying of Justice Beach happen.
Unbeknownst to “Smiity”, Crowe has recorded the tete a tete and signs for the million. Content in the thought that he now has some leverage over his superior. And that the million Grimes had given him is safely stashed away. Exuding serene confidence as he rides the elevator up to calmly explain the facts of life to Justice Beach. Who balks at first. Then slowly folds like a cheap suit. Despite the sudden interruption of Beach’s mistress, Julie Ames (Gia Carides. Deceptively plain, though smoking hot later in the tale) just back from a shopping spree. Crowe remains unswayed and unimpressed as he has Beach and Julie sign a letter detailing their cooperation.
Quite pleased with the day’s efforts. Crowe returns to his rather spartan, though upscale apartment. To find Todd Stapp waiting to hint that he smells major money in play and wants a taste. Not now, but soon. Another hurdle to be cleared or taken care of as Margaret arrives later for some celebratory sex. When, post coitus. Margaret posits the idea that Vic Grimes has spent years creating this unique organization. Has about served his usefulness and that is organization is ripe for the taking. Especially with Vic taking some time off at his secluded cabin near the Canadian border.
The gears start turning as Curl starts its opening arguments. Margaret travels to meet Grimes and Crowe follows later in the day. Timing his stealthy arrival for after dinner. When Crowe shoot and kills Grimes. Beats up Margaret’ badly and departs. Leaving a recovering Ms. Wells to tell a convoluted tale to the local police. In the middle of these events, Justice Beach reneges on his contract with Crowe. Rules against Curl Industries. Sends Julie to the Caribbean. Then commits suicide.
If things aren’t in complete upheaval when Margaret and Crowe return. They’re close to it as Ms. Wells takes charge, badly bruised, and all. Eschewing short skirts and dresses for snug pant suits. Rebuffs Crowe and puts him in her slot. And “Smitty” suddenly showing up for a lunch time meeting. An entourage in tow, to announce that his parent company is taking over and that he has been put in charge. Then dimes Crowe out as the infiltrator. Just to see how Margaret reacts.
Not well, evidently. As Margaret schemes to have all of her obstacles removed. “Smitty”, Crowe and anyone else she can think of. As Julie Ames returns from the Caribbean. Acquires a .380 Walther PPK and a quick lesson in how to use it from Les Goodwin. With revenge in her heart. Julie rides an elevator up to Crowe’s apartment moments behind and equally determined Margaret Wells. Setting the stage for a loud, accusation slinging, glass shattering shoot out. Whose outcome no one sees coming.
Now. What Makes This Film Good?
A tightly wound tale of skullduggery, back stabbing and dirty dealings. Within a corporate organization and without. Though, what would one expect when most of an organization’s operative personnel were encouraged and given free rein to lie, con, cajole, BS, intimidate, suborn and extort on a regular basis?
No one within the tight little group of the Grimes Organization is as pure as the driven snow. All have issues. Unresolved or soon to be resolved. Even Nelson Crowe, who enters under a shadow and with a grudge and a chip on his shoulder. Who may be what he appears and professes to be. Or the point man in what could be a very lucrative, though far from legal long con. Bankrolled by an often gamy facet of the federal government.
The fun is in the attention to detail as disposable alliances are formed. Sometimes well played. Sometimes not. Though always for advances in status inside a rarified, stark, often gritty environment. And nearly all under the watchful eye and deft touch of Ellen Barkin and her bravura Femme Fatale, Margaret Wells. Who knows too much. Wants it all. And has the wherewithal, seductive and otherwise to get it!
Cinematography by Jack N. Green is grainy and damp for the few outdoor daytime scenes. With New Westminster, BC filling in well for urban Seattle. Deep and dark with razor sharp slashes of light at night. Or inside Crowe’s spartan digs that oddly lack any pieces of furniture attuned toward sociability.
High marks for Art and Set Decoration by William Heslup and Elizabeth Wilcox. Also Barbara Clayden’s Wardrobe Department for making evil, duplicitous men and women look so darned attractive!
What Makes This Film Great?
Watching Laurence Fishburne play a slow burning, amoral, arrogant, healthily paranoid SOB. And having such fun doing it! Along with a cast of notable talent giving some well deserved and detailed life to taut, slowly tightening screenplay by Ross Thomas. Whose meat and drink and 20 plus novels covered cons, middle man buybacks, political chicanery and punching holes in cover ups large and small.
All involved in front of Damien Harris’ camera take to the screenplay with gleeful, eloquent abandon. Reveling in their abilities to plunge deep, splash and play. From Frank Lavelle’s above lit all, laissez faire, near sociopathic attitude toward others. To his underlings delivering a softly spoken soliloquy as a dry statement of fact. Or with smiling, beguiling charm as the person spoken to blinks. Then slowly begins to crumble. Everyone seems to be doing their best and the story is all the better for it. Especially with Warner Bothers’ late, great Shirley Walker directing a horn, bass and piano heavy orchestra to heighten tension and suspense.