In The Line of Duty: Manhunt in the Dakotas (1991, directed by Dick Lowry)

On February 13th, 1983, a group of U.S. Marshals attempted to arrest a man named Gordon Kahl in North Dakota.  Kahl was an outspoken tax resistor.  He had already served time in Leavenworth for refusing to pay his taxes.  When he was released, he continued to refuse to pay and, in violation of his parole, started to attend meetings of the Posse Comitatus, an organization that refused to recognize the authority of any government above the county level.  Because Kahl was so prominent in anti-government circles, the plan was to make an example out of him by arresting him as he left a Posse Comitatus meeting.  Instead, Kahl,  his son, and an associate opened fire on the U.S. Marshals, killing two of them.  Kahl escaped and, for several months, was the subject of an FBI manhunt.

To make clear, Gordon Kahl was not a good man.  Gordon Kahl was a white supremacist and an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist who was a follower of the Christian Identity movement.  While Kahl’s supporters claimed that Kahl originally fired on the marshals in self-defense, eyewitnesses testified that Kahl personally executed one marshal after he had already been wounded and was no longer a threat.  Gordon Kahl was no hero but, at a time when many farmers were struggling financially and felt helpless as they watched the banks and the government seize their land, many locals did sympathize with him.  The government’s attempt to publicly arrest Kahl and make an example out of him was seen as a classic example of government overreach.  The government was so eager to catch Kahl and Kahl was initially so successful in eluding them that Gordon Kahl became a folk hero.  When Kahl was discovered hiding out in an Arkansas farmhouse, it led to Kahl killing another deputy and the the government firing over a thousand rounds into the house before eventually setting it on fire.  In their effort to capture Gordon Kahl, the government behaved just as destructively as Kahl always said they would.

The hunt for Gordon Kahl served as the basis for the third of NBC’s In The Line of Duty films, Manhunt in the Dakotas.  Rod Steiger played Gordon Kahl.  Michael Gross, fresh off of playing a tax resistor in Tremors, played the FBI agent who headed up the manhunt.  Dick Lowry, director of the previous two installments of In The Line of Duty, returned to direct.

Manhunt in the Dakotas is a fair and even-handed look at the search for Gordon Kahl.  The film doesn’t shy away from Kahl’s racism and his paranoia but, at the same time, it also shows why many people instinctively distrust anyone who says that he’s from the government.  The film shows why so many supported Kahl without supporting Kahl itself.  Gross’s FBI agent may start out as rigid and by-the-book but he quickly learns that’s not the best way to get people to answer his questions.  Having come to understand why the people of the Dakotas don’t trust the government, he can only helplessly watch as the government does everything in its power to make Kahl’s paranoid claims seem plausible.  The FBI agent is determined to bring Gordon Kahl in alive but Kahl would rather be a martyr and it seems that the rest of law enforcement is all too happy to help Kahl achieve that.  Other than a few scenes were he indulges in his tendency to overact, Steiger gives a convincing performance as Kahl and he is well-matched by Michael Gross as the agent who comes to realize that there’s more to enforcing the law than giving orders and threatening to send people to prison.

Manhunt in the Dakotas would be followed by In The Line of Duty: Mob Justice, which I will review tomorrow.

Book Review: Born to Kill by John D. Revere

Published in 1984, Born to Kill is the third volume in the Justin Perry saga.

This time, the CIA’s most sex-obsessed assassin is on assignment in Jamaica.  There have been a series of mysterious chicken attacks in both Jamaica and Florida and Justin’s boss, the Old Man, is sure that it is somehow connected to the upcoming launching of a space shuttle in Cape Canaveral.  However, it’s not only chickens that have been making trouble.  Someone has been beheading government officials across Europe.  Justin’s assignment is to solve the mystery behind the chicken attacks and make sure that SADIF doesn’t interfere with the shuttle launch.  The Old Man has decide that he doesn’t want any SADIF operatives taken alive so, naturally, Justin Perry is the man to send.

Of course, Justin is more concerned with his latest girlfriend but she’s apparently blown up while driving to the airport.  Now, Justin not only has to solve the mystery of the killer chickens but he also has to get vengeance for his latest murdered lover.  But, before he does that, he has to spend a few days at the local brothel with another CIA agent because he’s Justin Perry.

Anyway, Born to Kill moves along at a decent enough pace, up until we get a flashback to the time that an 8 year-old Justin Perry had sex with a chicken and was then traumatized when his grandparents possibly served him the same chicken for dinner and then …. wait, what?  Justin Perry did what?  Yes, you read that correctly.  The action in the book stops so that Justin Perry can remember the time that he had sex with a chicken.  First off, ew.  Secondly, does this guy even have any good childhood memories?  Third, why is this even in the book?  It certainly doesn’t make Justin Perry into a sympathetic character.  Later on, when Perry was attacked by several mutant chickens, I was rooting for the chickens.

When I read the first two books, I assumed that they were meant to be a satiric and that Justin Perry was meant to be a parody of the heroes who appeared in other pulp paperbacks.  But I have to say that the book treats the chicken incident very seriously and, just as Perry spent Vatican Kill debating the existence of God, he spends a good deal of this book thinking about the decline of morality in society.  (He blames the sexual magnetism of John F. Kennedy.)  What I’m saying is that I’m getting the feeling that the author may have meant these books to be taken seriously.  If so, agck!

Anyway, to be honest with you, the whole chicken thing was really gross and I nearly stopped reading at that point.  Because I’m a completist, I did continue with the book but I have to admit that it was more skimming than in-depth reading as I was kind of worried to find out what other barnyard animals Justin Perry may have had sexual relations with.  And really, I think that might be the best way to read these books.  Skim over it all as quickly as possible and don’t make the mistake of thinking about what any of it means.  Justin Perry saves the day and kills a lot of people and, at one point, watches as a woman he’s just had sex with gets eaten by a shark.  He’s fascinated by the fact that the shark is eating a bit of him along with her.  The main theme of the series seems to be that Justin Perry really needed to get help.  Let’s just put it like that.

Film Review: Fortress: Sniper’s Eye (dir by Josh Sternfeld)

Fortress: Sniper’s Eye is a sequel to the 2021 film, Fortress.

If you haven’t seen Fortress, the plot goes something like this.  A group of mercenaries take over a resort that is populated by retired spies.  Robert Michaels (Bruce Willis) and his son, Paul (Jesse Metcalfe), have to set aside their difference and work together to defeat Frederick Balzary (Chad Michael Murray).

Meanwhile, the plot of Fortress: Sniper’s Eye goes something like this.  A group of mercenaries take over a now-closed resort that was once populated by retired spies.  Robert Michaels (Bruce Willis) and his son, Paul (Jesse Metcalfe), have to continue to set aside their difference and work together to defeat Frederick Balzary (Chad Michael Murray).

Now, to the film’s credit, Sniper’s Eye does admit that it’s largely recycling the plot of the first film.  When Balzary and his henchmen show up for a second time, Paul exclaims, “Didn’t any of you die!?”  It’s a funny line and one that shows that Sniper’s Eye is aware that it’s all a bit ludicrous.  Whatever other faults the film may have, you can’t complain that it’s not self-aware.

Unfortunately, when Balzary and his people invade for the second time, Paul is hosting a gathering with his fiancée and his future mother-in-law.  They’re all taken hostage.  Because Robert was wounded while rescuing Balzary’s wife from some killer Russians, he spends most of the the movie providing encouragement from a hospital bed.  Fortunately, towards the end of the movie, he is able to get out of bed and help out his son.  Paul is obviously happy to see his father and the viewers are happy to see Bruce Willis actually doing some action stuff.

Needless to say, Willis is going to be the main attraction for most viewers.  (I imagine a few One Tree Hill fans will be watching for Chad Michael Murray.)  Sniper’s Eye was one of the film that Willis completed before announcing his retirement from acting.  Knowing what we now know about Willis’s health and the conditions under which he made his final films, watching something like Fortress: Sniper’s Eye can feel awkward.  I cringed when I saw Willis in the hospital bed, looking tired and talking about how he was getting too old to play the hero.  At that moment, it felt as if the character and the actor became the same and it was a bit difficult to watch.

That said, Bruce Willis gives a convincing performance in Fortress: Sniper’s Eye.  He may not have the same charismatic swagger that he had when he was healthy but Willis does still look credible sneaking down a hallway while carrying a gun.  Even though the action scenes all use a rather obvious stunt double, Willis is still convincing in his role.

As for the rest of the film, the pacing is abysmal and the performances are uneven, with Jesse Metcalde making a bland hero and Chad Michael Murray going overboard as the main villain.  This is another film with a jumbled timeline so I feel sorry for anyone who is looking away from the screen whenever the “Two weeks later” title card flashes by.  On the plus side, the resort scenery was nice to look at and Natali Yura gave a convincing performance as Balzary’s wife.  As far as Bruce Willis’s later films are concerned, Fortress: Sniper’s Eye is superior to American Siege but comes in far below both Gasoline Alley and A Day To Die.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Robert Aldrich Edition

4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

On this date, 104 years ago, Robert Aldrich was born in Cranston, Rhode Island.  The first cousin of New York Governor and Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, Robert Aldrich eschewed business and politics to pursue a career in film.  Though his wonderfully melodramatic films were often undervalued when first released, Aldrich is now seen as one of the most influential filmmakers of all time.  Tarantino loves him.

In honor of Aldrich’s career and legacy, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Robert Aldrich Films

Kiss Me Deadly (1955, dir by Robert Aldrich, DP: Ernest Laszlo)

What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962, dir by Robert Aldrich, DP: Ernest Haller)

The Dirty Dozen (1967, dir by Robert Aldrich, DP: Edward Scaife)

Hustle (1975, dir by Robert Aldrich, DP: Joseph Biroc)