Film Rec: Streets of Fire (1984)

streets of fire

Streets of Fire is a unique action movie written and directed by the underappreciated Walter Hill. Billed as a “Rock ‘n Roll Fable,” it’s set in an alternate-reality 1980s where the styles and culture of the 1950s never died. This is a world of hot rods, greasers, diners and rockabilly. With its focus on a gritty but fantastical setting, the film can be easily seen a spiritual successor to Hill’s previous film The Warriors, which also dealt with street crime in a brutal but oddly fanciful world. 

The plot centers on Tom Cody, a tough drifter who is out to rescue his rock star ex-girlfriend from a gang of rampaging greasers. Michael Pare is serviceable as Cody, but it’s the supporting players who do the heavy lifting. Rich Moranis is off-type as a tough-talking music manager, and Amy Madigan is particularly enjoyable as Cody’s macho tomboy sidekick. The film is loaded with editing tricks and fun action sequences as well as a strong soundtrack of rock music spanning a wide range of subgenres. All told, it’s a stylish, slick and exciting romp through a world that never was.

Three Reasons to Watch:

  • The Setting: The retro setting is the film’s most unique characteristic, and I think it’s the main draw as well. There’s a reason why Hill calls this movie a “fable.” You could be easily forgiven for thinking of it as an urban fantasy film, with more than a dollop of comic book style. I wouldn’t be surprised if gothy films of the 1990s like Near Dark and The Crow took direct inspiration.
  • The Hard-Boiled Dialogue: In keeping with the retro theme, most of the characters talk like they think they’re in a Raymond Chandler novel. It’s all barbs and witticisms from jaded toughs with chips on their shoulders. It can get pretty corny, but that’s part of the appeal.
  • The Action: At its heart, this is an action movie with a simple storyline and plenty of chases and fights along the way to keep you entertained. The style here is distinctly 1980s, with an emphasis on collateral damage and stunts over slick choreography. The opening diner brawl and the final climatic face-off are standouts, with several exciting set-pieces in between.

Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You About:

  • The Musical Numbers: Diane Lane’s character has two musical performances in the film, and they’re pretty terrible. While the rest of the soundtrack is impressively timeless, these songs must have gone out of fashion moments after the film hit theaters. It’s unfortunate that a movie with such an emphasis on music gives center stage to such stinkers, but luckily they don’t ruin the experience as whole. And besides, what the hell do I know about music?
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