Running time: 98 mins
Director: José Antonio de la Loma
Starring: Jorge Rivero, Isaac Hayes, Robert Forster, Louis Jourdan
As a child I went through two VHS copies of this film with my merciless watching and rewatching. It was one of the first films that came to mind when I was compiling my list of 100 Other Films so it’s odd that it’s taken this long to actually review the film.
A U.S Special Forces team are dispatched to aid a Middle Eastern leader who’s been greenlit by a Dictator, played by Robert Forster, of a neighbouring country. Can the team prevent the assassination and restore peace?
As we join the Counterforce they’re in the middle of a training exercise set up by their Operations Chief Vince Colby, played by the excellent George Kennedy. The training op is a little bit shy with regards to budget and sophistication, you might think that it’s probably because it’s just a training exercise…but you’d be wrong. The vast majority of the film has a slightly skimped upon look as the budget wasn’t much and was most likely spent on securing such extravagant names like Isaac Hayes, George Kennedy and Robert Forster. The opening title sequence looked dated even when I watched it for the first time, which wouldn’t have been longer than a year and a half after it’s release. The heavy use of 1980’s sync and power guitar boxes the film firmly in the yuppy decade but not in a bad way. It’s 80’s and heavily dated in the best possible way, large hair, double denim and loud jackets it’s aged in the same way that Michael Mann’s Manhunter has aged. Yes the style, cinematography and score all have an expiration date but it’s never gets old nor loses it’s addiction, just like Iron Butterfly or Wang Chung.
The Jourdan / Forster political rivalry is pure cinematic gold. Jourdan trained under René Simon (founder of the Cours Simon drama school) and is probably the biggest casting coup of the film. Every scene he’s in he owns yet he brings the best out of those around him. His scenes with Harris (Jorge Rivero) are tension, emotional and even tinged with regret as his principles edges his life closer and closer to danger, similarly his relationship with his wife Roxana (played by Susana Dosamantes) has all the complexity and emotion of a real marriage. Forster has less screen time and looking back now there are Arab stereotypes that sit uncomfortably yet at the same time he’s played with many levels of grey. The scene in which his tent is attacked, almost killing him, convinces him that Kassar (Jourdan) is out to get him, it actually in part lessens the severity of his actions and makes you wonder whether he’d be the “good guy” if the U.S Government considered him to be useful in the region. When you look at Forster’s portrayal of a Middle Eastern Dictator and then at the forthcoming Dictator starring Sasha Baron Cohen it makes you wonder how we’ve allowed cinematic intelligence to recede over the past three decades. Jorge Rivero has an amazing presence on screen. Rivero (as Harris) is arguably a little too old to be operating in the field as he would have been 50 at the time of release but the star of Rio Lobo has not lost a inch of his muscular presence and is entirely believable in the physically demanding role of Team Leader of the Counterforce. He also has some of the great 1980’s comedy lines that are a must for an action film. At 50 the looks of the Mexican sex symbol have begun to fade but all this does is put the onus on his acting ability, which he has in spades. Isaac Hayes is a waste, Hayes at his best is an incredible action hero you only have to look at Truck Turner to see how he whoops ass and takes name. Sadly he’s not given a great deal to work with and he spends most of the film listening to music and establishing one half of a great action movie odd couple with Sutherland (Kevin Bernhardt).
Put alongside a Hollywood action film Counterforce will stand a slim chance of being looked on as a great film, it’s not a Die Hard or a Lethal Weapon, it’s budget is too small, director de la Loma (for all his qualities) is a cinematic technician rather than an Auteur. It is, however, a perfect example of what’s great about Exploitation cinema. It’s not quite in the same league as Kung Fu Cannibals for example but it is an exceptionally enjoyable and rewatchable (as my ten year old self will confirm) film Action film and wonderful escapism.