Streets Of Fire (1984)
A rock and roll fable, apparently, from director Walter Hill, Streets Of Fire may seem like a bit of an anomaly when compared to the many other movies from the director, but it doesn’t take long to see just how many familiar elements are in place here.
Diane Lane plays a rock star, Ellen Aim, who is kidnapped one evening by an unruly biker gang led by Willem Dafoe. The biker gang have been revving into town whenever they like, causing trouble and not coming up against anyone who can teach them to behave a bit better. Kidnapping Ellen, however, leads to a young woman named Reva (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) writing to her brother, Tom Cody (Michael Pare). Tom used to go out with Ellen, and he’s the kind of guy who can stand up to the bikers and sort out the mess that’s been created.
Bookended by a couple of bombastic rock tunes (think Meatloaf meets Bonnie Tyler style), Streets Of Fire isn’t a full-on musical, but it has a few moments that pause the action for the sake of a song or two, and is all the better for it. In between the songs we get a number of fights, plenty of corny dialogue, and a few scenes that allow Bill Paxton to make you laugh with the best hairdo that he’s ever had.
The lone hero going against the baddies, and possibly helping to clean up the town. The motorbike engines tearing up the screen in a way that almost allows you to smell the exhaust fumes. The neon-lit streets that serve as the backdrops for the main action. In many ways, this often feels like a natural successor to The Warriors. There are youngsters trying to overcome some big odds, and most of the scenes could be broken down into comic book panels (but don’t remind Hill of that, unless you want some ridiculous tinkering a la the director’s cut of the aforementioned 1979 classic), and both movies are about gangs and territory, in a number of ways.
Cast-wise, Pare isn’t the best leading man, but he grows into the role as required, and Lane is as gorgeous and cool as the character needs to be. Dafoe gives the kind of performance that you’d expect, making for an enjoyably fierce villain. Rick Moranis and Amy Madigan are two people who end up helping out our hero in very different ways, with the former portraying a businessman with little backbone and the latter a tough woman who values loyalty above potential cash. Paxton makes quite an impression, Rick Rossovich and Richard Lawson are a couple of fairly ineffective police officers, and Van Valkenburgh does well enough with her small role, even if her character does little more than kickstart the main plot.
However, this is Hill’s movie all the way. As well as directing, he also co-wrote the script with Larry Gross, and each sequence is planned out in line with his uncompromising vision. It’s a fantastic achievement. Some may call it an exercise in style over substance, but I would argue that the style helps to create the substance. The motorbikes, the rockers, the love story at the heart of it all, the dialogue that eschews reality for the sake of sounding cool, the gruff (anti?) hero – all of these things are ripped straight from numerous rock ballads, and that’s what this is. It’s one big rock ballad turned into a movie. As it’s described, and as I mentioned at the very start of this review, it IS a rock and roll fable. And it’s a bloody fantastic one.
Streets Of Fire is screening at EIFF 2015 on 28th June, as part of a selection focusing on Walter Hill: The Early Years. Other Hill movies being screened are 48 Hrs, Hard Times, Southern Comfort, The Driver, The Long Riders and The Warriors.
DIRECTOR: WALTER HILL
WRITER: WALTER HILL, LARRY GROSS
STARS: MICHAEL PARE, DIANE LANE, RICK MORANIS, AMY MADIGAN, WILLEM DAFOE, DEBORAH VAN VALKENBURGH, RICHARD LAWSON, RICK ROSSOVICH, BILL PAXTON
RUNTIME: 93 MINS APPROX