Trashy, goofy, and surprisingly sincere, this superhero fantasy is better than you expect but not as good as it should be.
On the one hand, John Frankenheimer is of course pleased that the Cold War seems to be over. On the other hand, the timing was disastrous for his filmmaking career. After the success of "52 Pickup" (1986), he made "Dead Bang" (1989), an unhappy experience marked by sharp differences with the star, Don Johnson, and then in 1989, began shooting "The Fourth War," a splendid political thriller starring Roy Scheider as a hot-headed U.S. Army officer assigned to a sensitive border post opposite Soviet troops.
The script built tension just as real events were dissipating it, and by the time the movie was released in 1990, it occupied a no-man's land; it was either the last Cold War movie or the first detente thriller. Critics like it, but audiences, no longer much interested in the Russians as villains, stayed away.
For his newest film, "Year of the Gun," Frankenheimer has gone to a pure thriller ingredient that served Hitchcock well: the notion of an innocent man wrongly accused. The movie, set in Rome in 1976, stars Andrew McCarthy as an American who unwittingly writes a book so close to the truth that both sides think he knows dangerous secrets.
Frankenheimer began his career in the golden age of live television, and his film credits include such classics as "The Manchurian Candidate" (1962), "The Train," "Birdman of Alcatraz" and "Seconds." He dropped out for a period in the 1980s, living in Paris with his wife, actress Evans Evans, but his return, announced with the extraordinary impact of "52 Pickup," is still on track.
"Year of the Gun" is a stylish and atmospheric thriller, and the nice thing about making period movies is that recent events don't make them obsolete.
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A classic thriller that moves with a sense of purpose.