Eastwood is consciously evoked in the introductory aerial shot that lays out Atlanta’s unshaven industrial side, but Burt Reynolds pushes the shot towards Welles by craning down to a close-up of his character, a narcotics cop on his way to an undercover bust. (Another virtuosic movement travels the night sky and zeroes in on the deluxe glass elevator carrying the capo di tutti capi, Vittorio Gassman.) The operation is botched, Reynolds is demoted to the vice squad downstairs, where a gallery of dicks and slobs and Zen disciples (Charles Durning, Bernie Casey, Brian Keith, Richard Libertini) make like the rowdy reporters in His Girl Friday. Assassinations rouse the gang out of the basement, the gubernatorial candidate (Earl Holliman) may be involved, it all leads to the mistress (Rachel Ward) kept in a splendiferous apartment. (Durning is enchanted by luxury of the underworld: "It’s gorgeous! We are on the wrong side!") Reynolds’s authorial achievement lies in a fresh eye in quick takes, which yields unusual highlights -- the hooker swatting the protagonist with a volume of Karl Marx, skyscrapers reflected on the window pane during Casey’s monologue about abstracting himself during a deadly encounter. There’s Henry Silva coming apart lavishly plus a special guest appearance by Peckinpah’s ninjas, but the really astonishing thing about it is the lyricism of a seduction conducted from across buildings during a stakeout, with Reynolds longingly listening to Ward snore over the police radio before whispering for her to roll over. The uniqueness of the handling allows the structure to morph rapidly from Rear Window to Laura and finally settle into They Live by Night for an idyll that would be laughable if not for the intensity of a romanticism that can dote over rose-shaped woodcuts while the world of '80s action grows more and more cynical. Cinematography by William A. Fraker. With Darryl Hickman, and Carol Locatell.
--- Fernando F. Croce