Halliwell’s description is terse: “New York cops track an international terrorist. Kojak-style thriller with a rather glum attitude to its subject.”
The title is of course Edward Hopper’s, and is evoked especially in Stallone’s birdlike stare as he calmly makes his way through the disco scene until he identifies Hauer. This avian metaphor continues when Hauer is immobilized on the Roosevelt Island skyway with hostages (in daylight), and Stallone in his police helicopter hovers not too far away, with the idea perhaps of suggesting a persistence of vision.
These are considerations not beyond the pale of criticism as we know it, at least on those rare occasions when the emotionally-responsive critic for once responds to the art of the film in his survey, rather than seeing his own reflection darkly.
Hard to Kill
It takes place in 1983 and 1990, with a coma in between, during which a senator is assassinated and another takes his place. The comatose patient awakens, slowly and painfully, and amid further attempts on his life recognizes the new senator as the mastermind of the assassination, having witnessed the arrangements seven years previously.
The police department has a corrupt element as well (our man is a cop), so there is a phalanx of hit men reinforced by detectives out to eliminate the witness, who has a videotape hidden away. His wife is seven years dead, his son is hidden away in a private high school as well, only his hospital nurse (Kelly LeBrock) and a police captain (Frederick Coffin) are allies.
The film follows his reawakening and training, his escapes and combats and pursuits, and finally his confrontation with the senator (Bill Sadler). Steven Seagal plays this excellently well, so there is a terribly suspenseful chase with him wheeling himself on a gurney by the aid of a mop, almost inert, away from an assassin disguised as a doctor and armed with a silencered pistol.
And generally, there’s a vague subtlety in the language of the images, as fleeting as the montage indicating the passage of time and the change of senators. When the witness announces his presence in the last scene, his quarry passes by a niche containing Egyptian artifacts, which are just glimpsed as he walks through this senatorial residence, an odd art collection in private hands.
This follows, in reverse order, a deadly fight in Chinatown, another at Union Station, the Bonaventure Hotel, MacArthur Park, Venice, etc. Malmuth’s technique is right to the point, quick, missing nothing. The gradually unfolding sense of how huge the odds are is another factor in this minimum-information puzzle, expressing first the stakes and then the opposite player.
It goes by so rapidly and adroitly that there’s almost no time to savor gags like nurse and witness at his former home, which is being remodeled by the new owner (the ruse is they’re in the market). While the nurse and the lady of the house take the tour, he finds his video camera hidden behind shelves in a wallpapered kitchen nook, which he destroys while fetching the camera. This he blames (for the housewife’s benefit) on shoddy workmanship, and they slip away.
There’s something familiar about Hard to Kill, which lends spice to the punchline at the end, when a policeman interrupts the dealing out of justice by the witness, telling him, “we know”.