Saturday, 30 July 2016

In the opening sequence of Michael Cimino’s Desperate Hours, a car races through an idyllic valley. Mountains, open roads, lakes; the full moon huge in the sky before the dawn, the morning sun illuminating it all after. This is a long drive, uninterrupted. Just the road, just the car, just the world.

A panicked woman emerges from the car, leaves it, and half-runs to a bus stop. Elsewhere, a man is marched through holding cells shackled in chains; barred windows and reinforced gates, locks and keys. His cuffs are removed behind two locked doors and he is led into a courtroom. Michael Bosworth, a master-criminal, wants to escape, and his lawyer, Nancy, wants to help him. They are in love. He promises he’ll wait for her “as long as it takes”. His plan is objectively simple: make her look like a hostage in his escape, find a home in the suburbs to wait for her to clear her name, wait for her to find him, then run away together.

But he’s already free. Following his escape, he is driven by his brother and an accomplice through the valley to pick up Nancy’s car. When asked whether the cops will be looking for their own getaway vehicle, Bosworth remarks: “they will, but not this one.” He could escape now in Nancy’s car and nobody would find him. Yet he goes back to wait for her. He loves Nancy. He won’t break his word.

Bosworth is an honest man, if not a good man, in a dishonest America. He invades the suburban, art-filled home of a separated family. Its owner, a Vietnam veteran, cheated on his wife with a younger woman, and the family home is up for sale. During his invasion, Bosworth coldly rallies against the rules of the family -- letting the young son play Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out on the NES instead of going to bed -- and uses sparing threats of violence and surprising gestures of trust and good faith to maintain a sense of calm superiority over his confused hostages. Yet, of course, they don't respond well to being held prisoner. And they fight back.

But they never win; Bosworth just loses. A gun without bullets has no power; a man with nobody to trust has nothing to gain. Everyone is out for themselves. The family embrace and reunite in celebration as if nothing has forced them apart. Bosworth lies alone on the front lawn. There’s no room for honest men in America.

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