Nighthawks is a 1981 thriller starring Sylvester Stallone (pre-Rambo), Billy Dee Williams, Rutger Hauer, Nigel Davenport, and Persis Khambata, 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).
Not to be confused with that painting.
- Badass Beard: DaSilva sports an awesome one throughout the film.
- 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.
- Bullets 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.
- Cassandra Truth: 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.
- 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.
- Disguised in Drag: DaSilva has a penchant for this.
- 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.
- 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 in specific (and Wulfgar in very particular, especially because he's a hard-core murderous madman) have to be taken out immediately, and DaSilva explicitly says that he didn't signed 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.
- 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 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 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."
- The Sociopath: Wulfgar, Wulfgar, WULFGAR. Where do we even begin? When he takes over the Staten Island tram on the climax, he refuses to even let kids go (a regular sign of good will by hostage takers), instead pointing out the gun he's carrying and telling DaSilva that if his demands are not obeyed, he will kill the kids and go "blame DaSilva for this!". His Establishing Character Moment is blowing up a restaurant by means of a bomb concealed in a baby carriage.
- 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 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 World's Expert on Getting Killed: Hartman, he who trains the strike force and constantly warns about Wufgar'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 blind-sided by Shaka when he's getting ready to get lunch and shot in the head before he can even blink.