It didn’t occur to me until this last viewing that this is the Ridley Scott picture I’ve been interested in seeing for a long time. But first I wanna be clear that I’m not that big a fan of Ridley, personally I enjoy more of brother Tony Scott’s films. Yes, Alien is a masterpiece and probably one of my favorite movies, as well as series, of all time. However, all of his other movies aren’t that great (including Blade Runner, man is it boring). What I do appreciate about his work though, and what keeps me coming back, is that he always paints a very pretty visual picture. Even if the story is lacking he makes his shit look fucking awesome.
Black Rain’s cinematographer was Howard Atherton (Fatal Attraction, Bad Boys, Indecent Proposal, Deep Rising) but at some point he dropped out during filming. It’s unclear how far along they were but it seems that at least half the thing was shot. So then to replace Atherton the incredible Jan de Bont (Die Hard, Basic Instinct, Dir: Speed, Twister) was brought in. Both are formidable guys and whoever shot the damn picture it looks fucking beautiful. There’s so much playing with colors and shadows that you can tell these two were on top of their game for this one. After a little while I consciously tried to look for crappy shots but I couldn’t really find any. Of course there are some that aren’t as interesting, especially in the context of an entire movie when you have so much to choose from, but there’s always something nice to look at in the frame.
Combine that with a gritty story about two NYC cops, with Michael Douglas (Falling Down, Disclosure) and Andy Garcia (The Untouchables, Beverly Hills Chihuahua) as the leads no less, that witness a public Yakuza mob hit, by way of throat slitting, and have to escort the murdering crime boss back to Japan only to have him escape once he’s on his home turf. The Americans stick around and pursue the investigation even though they’re not allowed to which leads to culture clashes as well as a fish out of water scenario.
The plot is classic western with transporting a high powered villain, rival gangs, (essentially) outlaw cops and Japan has kind of a lawless frontier feel here in that it’s foreign territory where the Americans stick out and don’t know the rules (both formal and street). Also their lives are in greater danger than normal because they aren’t allowed to carry their guns and they don’t know the town so they don’t have a place to hide.
You’ve also got classic action movie tropes like a cop that plays by his own rules and vigilante justice that are at the fore. Even though this mostly takes place in Japan this is an American style movie all the way. So if you’re looking for a blend you won’t get it here.
Michael Douglas’ character is also classic: he wears a black leather coat, street clothes, aviator sunglasses, has long-ish hair, always has a five o’clock shadow, a combative attitude and he rides a motorcycle. The character is completely unoriginal and the type we’ve seen countless times in that era. But it’s also a character type that I love and I love Douglas. He doesn’t pull off this rough and tumble personality as well as the rich asshole one like most know him for but it works nonetheless.
Garcia is the opposite with his fancy suits, shoes, perfectly trimmed hair, clean shave and jokey and conciliatory nature. He’s the one that can relax, do some karaoke and make peace with the Japanese police. He’s not a lightweight though and in the scene where Douglas and Garcia apprehend the Yakuza boss in the states he shows he can take care of business when the time’s right.
This movie is one of a whole bunch that came out around that time showcasing American and Japanese cultures butting heads (Gung Ho, Rising Sun, Mr. Baseball, Showdown in Little Tokyo, etc). The message they all convey is that we can learn from each other and each society should be a little more like the other. Japan should be less uptight and show a little more gusto and America should reign in their wild west mindset and aggressive tactics and be more thoughtful and structured. The thing is Black Rain actually plays more like Son in Law in that the Japanese cop that gets paired up with Douglas and Garcia (Ken Takakura (Mr. Baseball)) becomes a little more American by the end but Douglas and Garcia don’t seem to become a little more Japanese in return. That’s a little fucked up in my opinion.
So how does this all add up? It’s good, even really good if you’re in the right mood (I was this last time). It’s an interesting convergence of talent that makes for a gorgeous movie to look at but it also has tons of attitude via Douglas and the somewhat-solid-but-really-needed-to-be-worked-on-more script. This is Ridley Scott’s version of an 80’s American action picture with a renegade cop, a vicious bad guy, shootouts, a motorcycle chase and the whole nine yards. No sci-fi, fantasy or period stuff which is almost all he had done up until that point (he did Someone to Watch Over Me right before Black Rain but that’s a thriller and not an action movie).
I wouldn’t say it’s great though. Garcia is too goofy with all of his fuckin’ wisecracks and almost constant grinning, the investigation is a little confusing although you get the gist of what’s happening, Douglas eventually gets the bad guy using his own way instead of through a combination of American and Japanese tactics and there maybe could’ve been one more big action scene or at least the pacing could’ve been adjusted better.
But really Black Rain is pretty fuckin’ cool. I mean the title alone is fantastic (it has to do with nuclear fallout) and there’s no shortage of good filmmaking to get lost in (like they managed to not use subtitles during the Japanese language scenes except for two I believe). So I’d recommend it.
Note to self: do triple feature with Purple Rain and Hard Rain.