A good murder-mystery film is only as good as two things: the story and the cast. “The Presidio” meets both of those and gets an additional boost from a great script and mostly excellent direction. It even tosses in a boy-meets-daughter of a hated enemy and (of course) falls in love. So, you’ve got it all here plus the wonderful geography of San Francisco. Oh, yes, one of the headliners is the simply terrific Sean Connery while the other is the perennially underrated Mark Harmon.
(1988; 97 minutes; rated R; directed by Peter Hyams and starring Sean Connery, Mark Harmon and Meg Ryan)
LOVE, MURDER AND A VERY PERSONAL FEUD
(NOTE: I expanded this review with a little additional opinion and trivia and updating some links on Feb. 21, 2016.)
A good drama needs to be tight, focused and have a good story. In “The Presidio,” the story is plain yet sophisticated and the energy between the main characters just crackles because of the talent brought to the table by Sean Connery, Mark Harmon, Meg Ryan and Jack Warden.
While the top of the marquee for “The Presidio” borders on spectacular throughout most of the film, there is a steep drop-off after the first couple of supporting cast members and then the rest just become window dressing even before they’re off screen. Still, you could go a lot more wrong than watching this one again or for the first time.
“The Presidio” starts off with the murder of a military police officer at the Presidio of San Francisco (it was an active military base until the 1990s and is now a joint public-private venture including a coastal area and is a National Historic Landmark) by someone looking for something in the base’s officer’s club. The murderers are chased into San Francisco before being in a fiery crash that brings the local police into the picture.
The homicide detective in charge is Mark Harmon, who plays “Inspector Jay Austin,” and he’s about to butt heads with Sean Connery as “Lt. Col. Alan Caldwell,” who is his former commanding officer and the reason he’s out of the military. The two are forced to join forces, especially after Harmon gets one look at Connery’s daughter “Donna Caldwell” played by Meg Ryan.
From there, the audience is taken on twists and turns through the military establishment and San Francisco underworlds that culminate with toppling an international smuggling ring. The boy and girl fight – especially because of Dad – but I think you know how they wind up in the end.
Connery is at his commanding best here. He’s tough, opinionated and truly enjoys ordering people around and pointing out their flaws. He especially enjoys teeing off on Harmon because he knows the younger man was wrong in the incident causing him to leave the service and uses every opportunity to remind him. Connery’s best scene is at a bar where his talk with Harmon is disrupted by an unruly patron – and Connery only has to use his thumb to put him in his place.
An Oscar winner for “The Untouchables,” Connery was spectacular as “Indiana Jones’” father in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and has also been “James Bond” (such as “Diamonds are Forever” – click here for my review) as well as in “The Rock” and “The Hunt for Red October” (click here for my review).
Harmon is very good here and his only flaw is that sometimes he tries too hard, but that could only be when the director or screenplay backs him into a corner (such as his forced machismo in the squad room scene where he faces down a gun). Still, he’s workhorse of the film and plays well off Connery. His best work (nearly Oscar-quality) was in the TV movie “The Deliberate Stranger” where he played serial killer Ted Bundy and he is most recognized for being “Leroy Jethro Gibbs” on TV’s “NCIS” and has been in “Freaky Friday” opposite Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan.
Ryan is Harmon’s love interest here (or is he hers?) and is the dynamite that keeps exploding and maintaining a lack of balance between her father and her lover. Ryan, youthfully beautiful at 27 when “The Presidio” was released, does a good job and has a great scene with Connery’s best friend to discuss both of her personal situations. Ryan has also been in “You’ve Got Mail” (click here for my review), “Sleepless in Seattle” and “When Harry Met Sally…”
The backbone of the film, its conscience and ultimately doomed character because of his failings is Jack Warden as “Sgt. Maj. Ross Maclure.” Warden is Connery’s best friend and only voice of reason and provides the balance Connery needs with Harmon and Ryan. He’s also in cahoots with the bad guys and has to finally face up to himself. Warden is at ease showing his talent here and is so much better than the dreck called “Dirty Work” (click here for my review) he did apparently only to cash a check. He has been in “All the President’s Men” (click here for my review) and especially good, too, in “While You Were Sleeping” (click here for my review).
After Warden the supporting cast drops off fast. Mark Blum plays “Arthur Peale” and is the main bad guy and Dana Gladstone is “Maj. Paul Lawrence” the military bad guy and nemesis of Harmon. Both are competent, but do not stand out far from the supporting crowd. Blum has been “Sue Charlton’s” fiancée in “Crocodile Dundee” (really nice drunk scene with Paul Hogan there) while Gladstone has been in “Beverly Hills Cop II” and “The Star Chamber.”
Again I have reviewed a film that should have been much better than the 48th ranked movie at U.S. theaters in 1988 with $20.3 million, as “The Presidio” was according to Box Office Mojo. At least it beat out “Cocoon: The Return” ($18.9 million) and “Action Jackson” ($20.2 million), but it lagged far behind the year’s No. 1 film “Rain Man” with $172.8 million. Here are the films from that year I’ve reviewed:
- “Betrayed” (solid drama) – click here for my review
- “Caddyshack II” (crap) – click here for my review
- “Cocktail” (very good) – click here for my review
- “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (great) – click here for my review
- “Johnny Be Good” (crap) – click here for my review
- “License to Drive” (bad but funny) – click here for my review
- “Midnight Run” (really good) – click here for my review
- “Married to the Mob” (excellent) – click here for my review
- “Noble House” (great TV mini-series) – click here for my review
- “They Live” (not very good) – click here for my review
- “Twins” (simply terrific) – click here for my review
Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):
- Jenette Goldstein plays “Patti Jean Lynch” and is the MP who Harmon was once sweet on and is killed at the start of the film. You might recognize her as the foster mother of “John Connor” in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” or as heavy-weapons expert “Pvt. Vasquez” in “Aliens” with Sigorney Weaver (click here for my review). No, well what about as “Irish Mommy” in “Titanic?”
- Harmon was brought in as a last-minute replacement for Don (“Miami Vice”) Johnson because the TV star had a scheduling conflict. Don’t get me wrong about Johnson, whom I believe does good work, but he should never have even been in competition here. Harmon is simply perfect for the role.
- Kevin Costner was under contract to play the Harmon role, but backed out. He was in the “The Untouchables” with Connery. OK, unlike Johnson, Kevin might have given Harmon a run for his money.
- Marlon Brando was reported to have turned down the role ultimately played by Warden. Although I certainly respect Brando’s talent, I don’t see him here at that point of his life. Actually, any point in his life for any of the characters.
- Directly from IMDb.com: “The film’s director Peter Hyams was also the movie’s cinematographer, the picture being a rare instance in a major motion picture of one person performing both these duties. Hyams though, has performed both roles on a number of movies.”
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