The Long Kiss Goodnight

Certificate: 18
Running time: 121 mins
Director: Renny Harlin
Starring:  Geena Davis, Samuel L. Jackson, Brian Cox, David Morse
Genre: Action, Drama
Format: DVD
Country: USA

You never really know what you’re going to get when Renny Harlin offers you up a film, Die Hard 2 was by the book but solid and enjoyable, Cliffhanger was passable then you have Cutthroat Island, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 : The Dream Master, Deep Blue Sea and Mindhunters all of which are absolutely terrible…especially Mindhunters…terrible!  It’s in the midst of the Cutthroat Island hangover that Harlin attempted to win us over was The Long Kiss Goodnight with then wife Geena Davis and the (then) darling of Hollywood Samuel L. Jackson.

Samantha Caine (Davis) is the picture perfection of a mother and wife who, when pictured at a Christmas pageant, is thrown into a life that’s eight years gone and she doesn’t remember.  As she battles amnesia the true nature of her past life becomes more and more prevalent and dangerous.

When watching The Long Kiss Goodnight you might notice that lack of plodding, pedestrian dialogue that usually co-stars in all Renny Harlin films this is because it’s penned by one of the best writers with the greatest ears for dialogue Hollywood has ever been smart enough to recognise, Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Last Boy Scout).  Black has the ability to write with all the feel of a Raymond Chandler or Elmore Leonard, fast paced and wonderfully wordy yet always filled with the more colourful words the English language possess and Black has in his arsenal.  He has the ability to write characterisation in his dialogue effortlessly and in doing so saves you so much time in unwanted exposition.  When one of his characters quips in retort to a pick-up line “no thanks, I’m saving myself ‘til I get raped” you know more of the character than you could ever need to.  So strong is his writing that each character has the same snappy intelligence yet they are individuals in their own right.  It’s a real talent to be able to do that, there’s possibly only Black and David Simon working in Hollywood who can write this well and make it sound so easy.

Geena Davis (as Samantha/Charlie) is brilliant, because of her height she (like Uma Thurman) has been able to play some of the more hands on cinematic females but the steel her characters spine is made of is not only amazingly refreshing for a Hollywood action film but has gave her a lot to work with in future projects.  The art of transformation Davis portrays as she plays Samantha recalling nothing, then recalling Charlie, and then allowing Charlie in, then becoming Charlie is fantastic and a lot more difficult and praise worthy than what has been bestowed upon her.  Placing the two characters side-by-side highlights the differences in performance.  Everything from tone of voice to gesturality has been overhauled as the fog of amnesia is lifted to reveal a highly trained killer.  Samuel L. Jackson (as Hennessey) is worth savouring as it’s probably the last time he actually acted in a film rather than simply turn up because they promised to make an action figure out of him.  His character is interesting, cinema has seen many cops, many dirty cops and many repentant dirty cops.  The great thing about Black’s writing and Jackson’s performance as Mitch Hennessey is that though he regrets it, he’s able to laugh it off and is happy to admit his faults.  At times he’s tough but Jackson plays the character in a way that highlights his shortcomings and emphasises how out of his depth he is; which is wonderful.  It’s human and imperfect and very uncharacteristically Jackson.  At time he’s super smooth and is able to hold his head high only for him to miss the banana skin and land on his ass.  Brian Cox (Dr. Waldman) is awesome, obviously, he’s always awesome and is the best Hannibal Lector (just thought that needed said).  He has the most amazing natural timing and this coupled with the writing gives him not just a wonderful character but something he can have fun with.  I don’t think I’ve seen Cox have as much fun on screen as The Long Kiss Goodnight.

Unbelievably for a Renny Harlin film TLKG looks gorgeous and there are even a few beautifully surreal touches that work so well his track record should probably be amended.  The scene of Samantha talking to Charlie in the mirror while a thunder storm kicks off in a typically psychological representation of a landscape is excellent, you’d probably even say brave as it’s completely against the world constructed to this point and runs the risk of derailing the audiences relationship with the film.  It works though.  As does the backdrop of Christmas as the juxtaposition between the crisp white family filled background of the festive season and a woman who has essentially lost everything but gained a life of danger is bite sweet and great.  Similarly the soundtrack is brilliant, Jimmy Cliff, Muddy Waters, Marvin Gaye all ease an effortless amount of cool and reinforce the tip of the hat that Harlin and Black have placed towards exploitation cinema.  The strong female lead who’s able to dish out the punishment as good as she can take it is a fundamental character of exploitation cinema and the role of Charlie is exactly this.  It could be played by Pam Grier, Jillian Kesner, Marlene Clark or Christina Lindberg  it just so happens that it’s Geena Davis and she’s perfect for it, she should really do it more often.  Likewise Jackson channels the great males of the Blaxploitation movement and mimics them so well that you believe he could be Rudy Ray Moore or Calvin Lockhart or Fred Williamson and just when you’re about to believe him he screws it up and it’s hilarious.  The action sequences are big, bold and unashamedly enjoyable.  To his credit this is something that Harlin does as good as anyone.

What’s wrong with the film is that it’s predictable, you almost take pleasure in the predictability of it but it’s by the book.  Black, when writing in the action genre, has the ability to write some of the most interesting and original dialogue and characters but seems unable to push the boundaries of the genre.  It was only really in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with the self aware narration of Robert Downey Jr that he was able to turn this adherence to formula to his advantage.

Fifteen years ago, when this film was released, I didn’t like it.  I found it showy, obvious and very self aware but over the years there has been time to clearly hone my taste in cinema and upon reflection, and another viewing, I get to admit that I was very wrong.  The Long Kiss Goodnight won’t make any difference in the action genre, it’s a loyal follower rather than a leader, but what it will do is entertain you with a modern (and amazingly still relevant) action film while at the same time echo some of the best qualities that exploitation cinema had to offer.









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