Features Live Action Movies

Black Rain

Director – Ridley Scott – 1989 – US – 15 – 120


UK Release date: January 26th 1990.

On paper, Ridley Scott’s Black Rain reads like a winner: a police action thriller with Michael Douglas and sidekick Andy Garcia (then a little known star in the ascendant) as an NYPD cop hunting a villain in Japan. Where the film scores heavily is on the visual style level; this is Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982) imagery without the superficial Sci-Fi mega-budget special effects overlay. Or plot. The film looks startling throughout, due in part to Scott’s collaboration with Dutch cinematographer Jan de Bont (later director of Twister, 1996, not to mention Speed, 1994, and its sequel); every frame is a thing of beauty.

Unfortunately, Scott is not shooting a Hovis commercial here, and we need a rather more substantial screenplay – such as Alien (1979) or the extraordinary Thelma & Louise (1991) – than the flimsy sketch on which Scott hangs his current images. Generally, though, Michael Douglas – and the rest of the cast including the versatile Kate Capshaw (Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, Steven Spielberg, 1984) – are wasted.

Things start off well enough with a leather-jacketed Michael Douglas racing his cycle against a fellow biker along a New York quayside. Aha, could this be a set up to be paid off later in the script? And sure enough, the Japanese villain, on home turf, rides around on two wheels, and the film finishes with a climactic cross country bike chase. (Ironically, this one is nowhere near as good as the one in Diva, 1981, directed by that other great visual stylist Jean-Jacques Beneix.

It also lacks the resonance of the post-holocaust Japanese biker gangs in Akira, Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988). Trouble is, this fascinating cross-cultural biker subculture is never really explored (it’s no Mask, Peter Bogdanovich, 1985) nor are any of the myriad other potentially riveting elements in the screenplay, which are unlikely to make sense to anyone who hasn’t either lived in Japan for a while or seen the Paul & Leonard Schrader scripted The Yakuza (Sydney Pollack, 1985), a movie which explains why Japanese gangsters cut off their little fingers rather than assuming the audience already knows such things when the act is presented on screen.

Review originally published in TNT.


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