I watched Non-Stop recently (the 2014 film starring Liam Neeson) and between naps during the film I started thinking about some other Neeson films of the past 10 years which snowballed into recalling my favorite roles of his in Love Actually, Taken , Rob Roy and Darkman. Then at the edge of sleep I had a spark: wasn’t Neeson in the awesomely wooden Chicago mob versus Hazard county folk classic Next of Kin? Of course he was; naturally I had to watch it again. Thank you, HBO Go!
Next of Kin starred Patrick Swayze as a Kentucky born, Chicago cop married to a “fiddle teaching” Helen Hunt. Swayze’s brothers were played Bill Paxton and Liam Neeson. The film also included Ted Levine, Adam Baldwin, Ben Stiller, Andreas Katsulas and a host of Kentuckians and Musicians. There is a plot and a story (better covered here), but what was striking for me during my 1am screening was the sort of “meat and potatoes” directing of John Irvin.
Irvin, working in film in television since the early 60s, is probably best known for 1987s Hamburger Hill. One of a handful of movies about the Vietnam War that placed the audience squarely in the soldiers shoes, in the thick of the action and deep into the physical and mental futility that defines war. Great performances from Courtney B Vance, Don Cheadle and very intense war sequences. Irvin’s experience as a documentary filmmaker serves the movie well in the action/battle scenes. Unfortunately Hamburger Hill does suffer a bit from some heavy handed shoe-horning of political and social context to the story that just feels pointless. Still, it’s a great effort and prime example of Irvin’s ability to craft believable, grounded films.
Even with the 1986 polished turd that is Raw Deal, Irvin manages to create a credible Chicago underworld where former FBI agent turned small town sheriff Arnold Schwarzenegger is asked to go undercover to take out the Chicago Mafia. Small town vs Big City, must be a thing with Irvin. It’s well directed, terribly acted and poorly scripted. Catch it for free on Youtube.
Speaking of Youtube, you can also catch the entire run of of Irvin’s TV adaptation of John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. It’s not as stylish or polished as the 2011 film (the original production starred Alec Guinness and aired in the late 1970s), but it’s extremely nuanced and a fine adaptation. In a 2011 interview for the WSJ, Irvin says of the series: “It doesn’t seem to have aged. It seems quite current, aside from the pipes and cigarettes — I happily surprised.” I would say it does feel “current” in that it’s not dry or dated in the storytelling. There is also a nice tension created in the framing for television instead of movie screens to the series. Find Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy on youtube.
So fire up the laptop, and dip into the sensible, practical and somehow believable worlds of John Irvin. He’s got over 40 films to choose from… oh, I forgot to mention Dante’s Peak and the Harvey Keitel “classic”: City of Industry.