“Who’ll Stop the Rain” (1978) dir. Karel Reisz

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Based on the 1975 National Book Award-winning novel “Dog Soldiers” by Robert Stone (which was subsequently voted by Time Magazine as one of the 100 best novels between 1923 and 2005), “Who’ll Stop the Rain” is a dark, nail-biting film about drug running, Vietnam, and the decline of the counterculture into crime and violence. It stars Nick Nolte as a merchant marine sailor who agrees to smuggle a large quantity of heroin from Vietnam for a journalist friend played by Michael Moriarty. Things go south fast, with thugs hired by a rogue DEA agent in hot pursuit. So, Nolte grabs the heroin and Moriarty’s drug-addicted spouse (played by Tuesday Weld) and hits the road. The result is a surprising amount of well-staged and suspenseful action for a film this bleak in its look at human nature.

The direction by Reisz and performances by all parties, including Nolte, Moriarty, Weld, Anthony Zerbe, Ray Sharkey, and Richard Masur, are excellent. This is an extremely gritty and violent psychological thriller that would never be greenlit today by a Hollywood studio. Even back in the 1970s, the distribution branch of United Artists detested the film because the film’s main hero (Nolte) is a drug runner and virtually dumped the film, despite its acclaimed director, cast, literary pedigree, and it was one of the films selected to compete for that year’s Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Fiestival. It’s sad this film never found its audience, because it packs a wallop, both viscerally and emotionally.  This is 1970s cinema at its best.

“Thief” (1981) dir. Michael Mann

Michael Mann’s 1981 heist thriller “Thief” is not only one of the best crime movies of all time, it’s also one of the most influential.  Watching it nowadays, you can see where Mann tried out a lot of things that would later become de rigeur on “Miami Vice” (which Mann produced), but it’s not quite as flashy.  “Thief” is unapologetically blue collar.  The movie has many stunning and intense scenes (including some heavy graphic violence towards the end).  However, for me, this nearly 10-minute dialogue sequence between James Caan and Tuesday Weld is the best scene in the movie.  Here’s some setup:  Caan’s character has spent most of his adult life in prison.  Since he’s gotten out, he’s become an extremely successful safecracker and thief (with a few successful legitimate businesses that act as fronts for his illegal activity).  He has a lot of money and material possessions, but he also wants the kind of life “regular” people have, meaning marriage and a family.   He senses something in Tuesday Weld’s character that he feels is on his wavelength.  You see, Weld’s character too has a past, a shady one she’s trying to forget, even if it now means doing something mundane.  Caan’s character, in his clumsy, but direct way, is trying to kickstart his future and take a chance with someone he feels will understand and take the same emotional risk he is.  He guesses correctly.