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Package, The (1989)

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Score: 4/10

Genre: Political Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.

Release Date: August 25th, 1989 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Andrew Davis Actors: Gene Hackman, Joanna Cassidy, Tommy Lee Jones, John Heard, Dennis Franz, Pam Grier, Kevin Crowley

I

n East Berlin, German soldiers barge into the apartment of U.S. Sergeant Walter Henke (Kevin Crowley) to place him in the presence of suspicious Colonel Glen Whitacre (John Heard), who claims to need him for a top priority neo-Nazi task force. Meanwhile, in West Berlin, U.S. Sergeant Johnny Gallagher (Gene Hackman) leads his four-man outfit through the nearby, snow-covered woods, while important political disarmament treaty negotiations, concerning the Soviet nuclear threat, take place at the chateau embassy. Shortly after an agreement is reached, two backpackers with machineguns and tear gas assassinate an American general and his driver as they leave. Gallagher arrives at the scene, but is too late to catch the killers – who are later linked to a terrorist organization. After clashing with Whitacre at the U.S. Army Berlin Brigade Headquarters for a review of the slaying, John is assigned to escort a troublemaker prisoner soldier (Tommy Lee Jones), using the name Walter Henke, to a court-martial.

At the airport, John is attacked in the restroom and Henke flees. Following up on the escaper, John visits Mrs. Henke, only to discover that the detainee is not who he says he is. Next, he journeys to see his ex-wife, Lieutenant Colonel Eileen Gallagher (Joanna Cassidy) and her assistant Lieutenant Ruth Butler (Pam Grier), in Washington D.C., to collect further information on his mislaid “package.” Determining that “Henke” smuggled himself into the country under the assumed identity, Butler establishes that the missing man’s name is actually Thomas James Boyette, a highly decorated soldier with countless classified missions under his belt. Digging deeper results in the uncovering of multiple murders, a parking lot shootout, and a conspiracy unfolding in Chicago.

Consistently tense, “The Package” features the transpiring of a complex mystery full of spies, assassins, gunplay, setups, and cover-ups. It’s a fitting precursor to director Andrew Davis’ “The Fugitive,” released four years later, with a similar hero outmanned, outgunned, and oppressed by government agencies and law enforcement – but never outsmarted. Capable Hackman is smartly paired with Jones for a nemesis, familiarly heralding Jones’ Oscar-winning turn as chief adversary for Harrison Ford’s Richard Kimble. Though an actual teaming of the two for a mutual goal might have been more engaging, they play against one another with satisfactory zeal. A supporting role by Dennis Franz as longtime friend, Detective Delich, is also competent – no weak acting links are inserted into this unflinchingly serious political thriller.

City-hopping, routinely separated allies, frantic running, obligatory references to sinister military enterprises (here, “Operation Sundown”), presidential involvement, and James Newton Howard’s ominous score invade the detail-stuffed events. The pacing suffers occasionally, especially as clues unveil an assassination premise that can’t manage to present a truly unique vision for either a conspiracy theory or a Cold War actioner. And far too much establishing footage is used for an unrewardingly simple revelation. Peculiarly, Hackman gets to embark on a one-man car chase through the city, fruitlessly revisiting his iconic pursuit in “The French Connection”; the finale plays out by unreservedly borrowing pieces of “The Manchurian Candidate”; and, on a more inspirational note, the final sequences serve as probable inspiration for Wolfgang Petersen’s enthralling “In the Line of Fire” (1993).

– Mike Massie

 

 

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