Region: 1 (NTSC)
Released: January 18, 2000
Genre: Cold War / Suspense / Action
Synopsis: A sergeant must prove his innocence and prevent the assassination of the Soviet President after he’s hunted by the military and the law.
Special Features: n/a
Underrated political thriller set in Cold War Berlin in which Sergeant Gallagher (Gene Hackman) is tasked with bringing a ‘package’ – delinquent soldier Boyette (Tommy Lee Jones) – back to the U.S. for a proper court-martial, only to discover a plot to assassinate the Soviet President.
The Package is a dour, cynical film that draws inspiration from both The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and Seven Days in May (1964) by having its story propelled by an internal, rogue military faction attempting to manipulate the power structure of major heads of state.
Hackman is exceptionally good as a career soldier perfectly content in remaining low in rank and enjoying the command of his men, while Jones relishes another grinning, smart-ass, cold-hearted sociopath – a role that presages both the cartoon-loving terrorist in Under Siege (1992) and the mad bomber in Blown Away (1994). Hackman’s also reunited with Under Fire (1983) co-star Joanna Cassidy, playing his ex-wife and superior officer, and this time she’s sporting what may be the biggest triangular perm on film. Among the cast in small small roles are Pam Grier, Dennis Franz (playing what else, a cop), and Harry Lennix (Titus, TV’s The Blacklist) in his film debut as one of Hackman’s men.
Director Andrew Davis proved so good at combining action with tense drama reminiscent of classic seventies thrillers that he easily migrated into the big leagues with Under Siege (1992) and The Fugitive (1993). There’s never a slow beat in The Package, and Davis clearly had fun staging a reckless car chase with Hackman driving like a madman through city streets much like the epic car chase in The French Connection (1971).
Contrasting the heroic actions of Hackman and Cassidy’s characters is John Heard’s portrayal of Boyette’s handler and (through implication) the plot’s chief architect. Tall, thin, emotionless, and selfish, Col. Whitacre is perfectly comfortable using a neo-Nazi clan as aides and ultimately patsies in a fairly elaborate scheme to permanently prevent the signing of a nuclear missile agreement between the U.S.S.R. and America.
Everyone in the film seems to be corrupt, from generals to beat copes to high police lieutenants (including Seinfeld’s Rene Santoni), and Davis makes use of some fairly grim & grubby locations during a very icy winter. Hackman’s race through traffic and busy crowds during a St. Patrick’s Day Parade presages a similar sequence in The Fugitive, and his goal to halt an assassin echoes the finale of The Manchurian Candidate.
Cinematographer Frank Tidy (The Duellists, The Grey Fox) captures the grit of a dank winter, and the Chicago and Berlin locations give the film authenticity; made prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Package is one of the last great Cold War thrillers – pulpy, cynical, and fun – and a drama that harkens back to a ‘simpler’ era where global threats stemmed from WWII rivals with nuclear bombs rather than myriad Middle Eastern hot spots and ideological lunatics. (A similar tale of Cold War subterfuge propels the equally superb The Fourth Protocol, which co-starred Cassidy in 1987, whereas Hackman would play a murdering officer the same year in Now Way Out, a Cold War espionage thriller.)
Perhaps the only area that dates the film (besides Cassidy’s gargantuan mop) is James Newton Howard’s score which begins with a great orchestral main theme, and flips to mostly electronics for the U.S. scenes, making the score a little schizophrenic.
MGM’s flipper disc of this Orion production includes full screen and widescreen versions, but these are very old transfers; The Package really deserves both a proper Blu-ray release, if not a special edition.
© 2014 Mark R. Hasan
Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review