A Threesome with Kiefer

I recently watched three films in which Kiefer Sutherland starred.

Brotherhood of Justice (1986)

This made for television film is supposedly based on true events. It stars a young Keanu Reeves as jock Derek, the leader of a group of high school kids who form a vigilante gang to take care of business when their white bread neighbourhood feels under threat from the drug dealers and the vandals. Well intentioned at first, even if their good intentions involve punishment beatings and acts of humiliation for those on their list of deserving candidates, the Brotherhood soon embraces the dark side, by carrying weapons and endorsing the xenophobia and homophobia of some gang members. Keanu as the caring one has to confront his own inner demons, and ultimately must choose between doing the right thing and betraying his friends. Oh yeah, Kiefer plays the role of Vincent, a server at the restaurant where Derek’s girlfriend works, and who acts as the voice of sanity, which inevitably means that he ends up in the Brotherhood’s sights. I came to this with low expectations (it was in a four film set available from Poundland), but was pleasantly surprised. I liked the fact that the violence was restrained, which made it more believable than if they’d gone full on ape shit with the material. Keanu was excellent as the upper class kid made painfully aware of his own privilege, essentially a good person but misguided and forced to confront all sorts of internal conflict and emotional turmoil as matters spiral out of his control. And Kiefer did okay in an undemanding role, one that didn’t ask him to do much but pose eloquently and look as if he’s having deep thoughts. The film also made a good job of presenting the various social dilemmas, showing both sides of the argument (well, except when it comes to the xenophobia and homophobia) and how fear drives people to adopt solutions that ultimately are not in their best interests. It ended on an excellent note as well, with black and white photographs showing the resolution of events, which I thought was a nice touch. Yep, I liked it a lot, though I probably won’t watch it ever again.

The Vanishing (1993)

Kiefer holds centre stage this time, as writer Jeff whose girlfriend Diane (Sandra Bullock) disappears from a service station when they are on vacation together. He becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to her, and over the next three years the search dominates every aspect of his life, casting a cloud over his relationship with new girlfriend Rita (Nancy Travis). Finally the kidnapper makes contact with Jeff and offers to reveal what happened to Diane if he is willing to submit to the same ordeal she suffered. This film is based on a book titled The Golden Egg by Dutch author Tim Krabbe, and many years ago I saw the 1988 European film of the story, which was vastly superior and much bleaker than this iteration. Hollywood being Hollywood we had to have the thriller elements and a happy clappy ending. Paradoxically, those thriller elements were the best thing about this production. Early on we get scenes of Jeff Bridges as kidnapper and sociopath Raymond, practising and developing his technique, and he seems a bumbling, almost comedic figure, but Bridges grows into the role and before the end is a genuine figure of menace, explaining his motives in chilling, matter of fact tones, though I couldn’t quite get past what had gone before. Kiefer’s obsession shines through clearly, though his failure to involve the police when he is contacted doesn’t quite ring true to me. Slow and rather dull and not to be taken entirely seriously, the film picks up with the meeting between Jeff and Raymond, and then becomes a deadly fight for survival with Rita on the trail of the two men and putting herself in danger to save Jeff (this is where the film departs from the 1988 version) and turn the tables on Raymond. The last forty minutes or so, more than made up for what had gone before, but all the same having set up an intriguing situation the film gave us a Hollywood resolution, one that I pretty much expected from the get go. In a sense the good stuff only really began at the point where the 1988 version ended, and it would be interesting to know which iteration was the most true to the novel that inspired them.

Mirrors (2008)

And this third time round we find Kiefer in a proper horror movie. He plays Ben Carson, an NYPD detective suspended from duty after a shooting incident. He’s separated from his wife and children, staying with his sister while he gets his life sorted out (and, just to make matters more complicated, we learn he’s had an alcohol problem, though having been raised this is never mentioned again, so probably a plot strand that was abandoned). Ben gets a job as night watchman at The Mayflower, once a luxury department store, but now a burnt out shell of a building after a fire five years previously in which over forty people died. And yet the mirrors inside the building are still intact, and Ben sees terrible things reflected in their depths, while all his attempts to destroy them prove futile. He comes to realise that his family are in danger unless he can solve the mystery of The Mayflower’s past and give the creatures in the mirror what they want. There’s a lot more to this than my précis allows, with plenty of twists and plot turns, and a complicated back story, one that perhaps a little credulity on the part of the viewer. There’s plenty of action, with children in peril and a desperate fight against a demonic entity. There are bloody deaths and, courtesy of The Mayflower, an unsettling atmosphere, one that feels brooding and malevolent. The cast – Kiefer as Ben, Paula Patton as his wife, Amy Smart as his sister – all perform their roles with conviction. The menace of the mirrors is cranked up to the max, with our awareness that they can get at Ben and his family just about anywhere there is a reflecting surface. And after the sfx laden fight to the finish at the end we have a clever little codicil that comes out of left field but seems entirely right for this production. Mirrors isn’t a classic of the genre, but it takes a lot of familiar tropes and packages them in shiny new wrapping to present a film that is eminently watchable and entertaining. I liked it a lot, and it was easily the most accomplished of these three Kiefer outings.

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