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Film / Nighthawks

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Nighthawks is a 1981 thriller starring Sylvester Stallone (pre-Rambo), Billy Dee Williams, Rutger Hauer, Nigel Davenport, and Persis Khambatta, with appearances by Lindsay Wagner, Joe Spinell as a cop and Hilary Thompson as a flight attendant.

Nighthawks is about a terrorist named Heymar Reinhardt (Hauer in a portrayal of a terrorist that's both refreshingly and chillingly realistic), who operates under the alias of Wulfgar. Stallone and Williams play two cops named Deke DaSilva and Mathew Fox, respectively. DaSilva and Fox, who operate undercover, have their cover blown when two other officers approach them and tell them, in broad daylight no less, that they have been chosen to be part of an anti-terrorist unit assembled by a British counter-terrorist specialist named Peter Hartman (Davenport). Hartman believes that Wulfgar is heading to New York, after his cover was blown by another terrorist who unintentionally gave his passport to the police, and he wants to stop him before it's too late. Unfortunately, Wulfgar is already in the states, and is staying with a flight attendant named Pam (Thompson).

One thing that is interesting to note is that this film was scored by Keith Emerson, who also scored Dario Argentoís Inferno (1980), and part of the score for Godzilla: Final Wars.

Not to be confused with that painting.

Tropes Present:

  • Badges and Dog Tags: Hartman reads DaSilva's history at one point of the film and he mentions that the latter used to be in the Army before asking why he's so insistent on decrying Hartman's orders to kill Wulfgar on sight. DaSilva answers back that he didn't became a cop to act as an assassin.
  • Beard of Evil: Wulfgar sports one in the beginning of the film, but loses it after he realizes that the police have identified him.
  • Bluffing the Murderer: DaSilva sees a man whom he thinks is his target altered by plastic surgery, so he stares at Wulgar until the terrorist notices him, then shouts out "Wulfgar!" as if he's just recognised him. Wulgar's instinctive response is to draw his gun and start shooting.
  • Cassandra Truth:
    • Hartman warned the London Metropolitan Police not to go after Wulfgar like they did (unarmed, as they usually are, without any unit with guns), resulting in him murdering three. Shunted to the side, he's seen lamenting how they didn't listen, and asks if they'll ever start.
    • When Pam asks Wulfgar what he does for a living, after meeting him, he says "I'm an international terrorist." She doesn't believe him until she opens his suitcase and he then kills her offscreen.
  • Chekhov's Gun: There are a few notable ones. Two of them are found in Hartman's lectures, the most notable one being when he says "hesitation kills." Another one is mentioned twice in the examples below. See if you can spot it. Hartman tells DaSilva that he went through the trouble of studying the background of each person on the anti-terrorist unit, and he says that Wulfgar will do the same. Turns out that he's mostly right. The only thing he got wrong is that Wulfgar has Shakka do the homework instead of doing it himself. He also demonstrates this by insulting DaSilva in a way that makes him reach his Rage Breaking Point and almost storm out of the organization (by mentioning he's divorced) — on the climax, DaSilva uses a recording of Hartman where he talks about Shakka's profile and insults her in a way that makes Shakka abandon the Human Shield group to try to kill DaSilva in a rage, and this allows Fox to snipe her in the head.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: There are a few throughout the film, but the most memorable one is when Wulfgar has wounded Fox, and DaSilva slips a "fuck" between every other word as he shouts threats to the retreating Wulfgar.
  • Cowboy Cop: Inverted. In an interesting twist on such films, Da Silva is a fairly by the book cop who is firmly against using lethal force and says he didn't become a cop to kill people. It's his superior, MI6 Agent Hartman, who shoots down the idea of trying to take Wulfgar in like any other criminal and sees Da Silva's refusal to use what he sees as necessary methods as naive.
  • Curiosity Killed the Cast: Poor Pam, Wulfgar told you that he was a terrorist, so you really shouldn't have been so surprised when you saw those grenades in his suitcase.
  • Dark Action Girl: Shakka is a Moroccan woman who serves as Wolfgar's assistant and accomplice in his terrorism. She's cold and ruthless like him, murdering Hartman while later holding people hostage with Wolfgar. He warns them not to expect mercy from her or underestimate Shakka because she's a woman.
  • Didn't Think This Through: After finally escaping from the hostage situation, albeit at the cost of Shakka, Wulfgar has a chance to hide. Instead, he decides to find DaSilva's estranged wife and kill her. This bites him in the ass hard when it turns out that DaSilva had caught on after seeing her house listed on a piece of paper at his [Wulfgar] hide out, and decided to wait for him in her home.
  • Disguised in Drag: DaSilva has a penchant for this. In an early scene, he disguises himself as a woman to lure in some muggers. During the finale, he ambushes and kills Wulfgar while pretending he's his wife, who Wulfgar's targeting in revenge for DaSilva foiling his terrorist plot.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Discussed and averted. Wulfgar asks for children to be removed from a hostage situation but makes clear it isn't out of compassion but because other groups won't hire someone who hurts kids, a standard he seems somewhat baffled and amused by. He'd learned this as a result of the bombing he committed at the beginning of the film killing several children, which caused him to be shunned by terrorist groups in Europe, as their deaths would hurt the groups' causes.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Wulfgar. He has Rutger Hauer's incredible magnetism and charisma and uses it to disguise his monstrous nature and manipulate others exceptionally well.
  • Foreshadowing: In the opening scene DaSilva disguises himself up as a woman to lure out some criminals, and at one point in the movie Hartman warns DaSilva that Wulfgar might try to retaliate by going after his ex-wife. In the climax of the movie Wulfgar does exactly that only to find DaSilva disguised as his wife.
  • For the Evulz: This is pretty much Wulfgar's whole motive for his terrorist actions. Although he claims he's a "liberator" and fighting for oppressed people, it's pretty obviously just an excuse, and saying killing is just his job but not something Wulfgar's actually into isn't plausible either judging by how he acts.
  • Guns Do Not Work That Way: A close-up of DaSilva's partner Fox chambering a round in his sniper rifle is ruined by the fact that it's clearly a blank cartridge.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Peter Hartman. He can be very abrasive and insulting and has no issue with lethal force or collateral damage but he's just trying to stop a legitimately monstrous figure and he does show a friendlier side just before he is killed.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: DaSilva is very uncomfortable with Hartman's "shoot first" mentality that he wants the cops to have when dealing with Wulfgar. He actually has an argument with Hartman over this mentality. His coming to terms with this is the only reason DaSilva survives when facing off against Wulfgar. There are also examples earlier in the film when different divisions of the police department don't seem to like each other much if at all.
  • Karmic Death: Shakka's fate in the movie. Earlier in the film she killed Hartman, and later on in she is tricked into exposing herself in the open after DaSliva plays a recording of Hartman insulting her, which in turn leads to her getting killed by Fox. To add to that, she is shot in the head, which is exactly the way she had killed Hartman.
  • Kill on Sight: Most of the drama between Hartman and DaSilva is that, even if they are working on the same side as members of a law-enforcement initiative, Hartman insists that terrorists (and Wulfgar in particular, since he's a hardcore murderous madman) have to be taken out immediately, whereas DaSilva explicitly says that he didn't sign up to be a cop so he could become anybody's assassin.
  • Magic Plastic Surgery: Averted. Wulfgar goes to a plastic surgeon to alter his face after the French authorities get his picture, but the changes are not that major — he's able to sneak into the United States with a fake passport, but he's still recognizable enough that A.T.A.C. finds out that he did shortly afterwards, and he depends on Shakka for legwork. DaSilva sees Wulfgar in his new guise and realises the similarities, and bluffs Wulfgar into revealing himself.
  • Mood Whiplash: Quite a few. The most tragic of these is perhaps when Hartman dies. One moment, he's talking to DaSilva about getting Chinese food, and then he sees Shakka at the top of the escalator he's on. It doesn't end well for him.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Wulfgar is obviously based on Carlos the Jackal — his introduction, where he shoots dead several police officers sent to arrest him, resembles Carlos' 1975 shooting of two unarmed DST agents and an informant in Paris.
  • Oh, Crap!: There are a small number. Wulfgar has one just as he realizes that he's fallen for DaSilva's trap at the end of the film. Hartman also has one when he sees Shakka waiting for him at the top of an escalator.
  • Pet the Dog: Subverted. Wulfgar asks DaSilva to take a small infant off the tram car holding the hostages, but only because killing the infant would make terrorist organizations unwilling to hire him, and he wants to find "work."
  • Pop-Star Composer: Keith Emerson scored the film.
  • Sadist: Wulfgar. Causing others pain and committing acts of terror is seemingly all he lives for.
  • Sarcastic Confession: When Pam asks Wulfgar what he does, he flat-out tells her he's an international terrorist and a lady-killer. Given he's chuckling while doing so, she assumes he's joking... except he's not.
  • Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You: Stallone is about to shoot the audience, with a pistol that takes up roughly one-third of the poster space.
  • The Sociopath: Wulfgar, Wulfgar, WULFGAR. He is a cold, manipulative terrorist who easily fakes being friendly and charming, but shows absolutely no real feeling toward anyone, even his comrades.
  • Soft-Spoken Sadist: Wulfgar always speaks calmly and it only highlights how monstrous and detached he is.
  • Subways Suck: Aside from the fact that we are talking about the New York City subway in The '80s, they get a hell of a lot worse when there's a maniac terrorist taking hostages in them.
  • Terrorists Without a Cause: Wulgar in a nutshell—he's a "for-hire" mercenary, so ruthless that other groups start to stay away from him. So the best way to solve this? Go to New York and terrorize it to its knees in order to attract employers.
  • Unflinching Walk: Wulfgar's Establishing Character Moment is to walk into a cosmetics shop, place a bomb inside while falsely flirting with a saleswoman, and cross the street without slowing down or flinching (or reacting with more than a preventive ear covering) as the bomb goes off behind him to make a call on a public phone on the other side, giving a political statement to a news service.
  • The Vietnam Vet: Da Silva is one and it's implied that his experiences are why he's initially against using lethal force against Wulfgar.
  • The World's Expert (on Getting Killed): Hartman, he who trains the strike force and constantly warns about Wulfgar's immense preparedness, even warning that if facing off against him or his allies, the best way to survive is to draw a gun and kill them immediately. He gets blindsided by Shaka when he's getting ready to get lunch and shot in the head before he can even blink.