Released in 1981 and directed by Bruce Malmuth, Nighthawks, essentially, is a hidden gem from the days of Sylvester Stallone’s career between Rocky II and First Blood (1979-1982).
Primarily set and filmed in contemporary New York, Nighthawks presents forms of terrorism, realistic action and revenge – the terrorist being Rutger Hauer’s “Wulfgar” – the third villain in this series of Obscure Movie Villains.
Whilst the previous two instalments of Obscure Movie Villains have featured villains with hints of black comedy, Nighthawks’ Wulfgar isn’t a comedic villain – despite personally finding Nighthawks to feature a few comedic moments and aspects.
Whenever Nighthawks is referred to, Rutger Hauer’s performance as terrorist Wulfgar tends to be cited as the greatest aspect of the film – I feel that Hauer’s Wulfgar was a brilliant preceding performance to his Roy Batty in Blade Runner in his career in America.
Regarding obscurity, Nighthawks, and its main villain, both tend to be obscure within the action film genre and the respective careers of Sylvester Stallone and Rutger Hauer – in my opinion, if I asked a stranger to name a Stallone film which isn’t a Rambo or Rocky entry, the likely answer would be one of Demolition Man, Cobra, Assassins, Cliffhanger or even Judge Dredd, and if I asked a stranger to name a film from Hauer’s career, then the likely answer would be one of The Hitcher, Blade Runner, Hobo with a Shotgun, Blind Fury or even Batman Begins – where’s Nighthawks? Nowhere to be seen!
Essentially, the first appearance of Wulfgar (he blows up a department store) establishes what the audience are to expect from him throughout the film, and he is instantly presented as a ruthless killer. Shortly after, Wulfgar is informed by one of his contacts that children were killed in the blast, therefore his “employers” are very angry with him, but Wulfgar shows no remorse or emotion when he is informed of the dead children.
In this scene, the authorities come to the whereabouts of Wulfgar (a house party in London) – he escapes by withdrawing an Uzi from behind his acoustic guitar and killing said authorities. Later in the film, Wulfgar travels to New York, where he plans to kill more people – this is how and where he later encounters the characters played by Stallone and Billy Dee Williams.
The appearance of Wulfgar goes under a dramatic change in the opening third of the film – the dramatic change in appearance is in his face. When first presented with Wulfgar, he’s a brown-bearded individual who possesses a scarily sleazy charm (and looks a little different to Rutger Hauer), but when his face becomes known as the terrorist Wulfgar, his only way of avoiding the authorities and being able to roam free is to go under a facial transformation – “make me beautiful” he instructs to a French plastic surgeon – the surgeon is later to be found dead, obviously. The result of the transformation presents the audience with a more recognisable Rutger Hauer, but along with the change in face, his tendency of being scarily sleazy has vanished.
At times, Nighthawks manages to present happenings or both seriously and (very) slightly comedic at the same time – I don’t know whether this is the intended presentation or if it’s just my reading of the film. An example of this is the first encounter between Wulfgar and Stallone & Billy Dee Williams’ characters, Detective Sergeants Deke DaSilva and Matthew Fox.
DaSilva & Fox gather intelligence that Wulfgar enjoys the nightlife; therefore the maiden encounter between Nighthawks’ villain and heroes takes place in a disco nightclub. In quite a dramatic happening, DaSilva scopes out who he thinks is Wulfgar in the club – this is done with shot-reverse-shots and zoom-ins, he then withdraws a pencil sketch of Wulfgar from his pocket, adds a bit of detail in places, and says to Fox, “that is stood over there.”- of course, DaSilva & Fox approach Wulfgar in a subtle fashion, but from two or three meters away, they just stand and stare at Wulfgar, waiting for him to notice – it’s a situation that’s both serious and hilarious. Obviously, Wulfgar knows that they know who he is, so he starts to drift away with his evening date, then out of nowhere…DaSilva shouts, “Wulfgar!”, and our villain happens to be carrying an Uzi at the same time which leads to a short shootout, then an incredibly well-shot chase through the streets of New York, then into the subway, and onto a train!
Wulfgar, to some extent, is comparable to Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight. Ledger’s Joker, like Hauer’s Wulfgar, is an urban terrorist with the desire to cause destruction to prove their worth as a villain. A key difference, of course, being that Wulfgar doesn’t want to be facially recognised by authorities, where as Ledger’s Joker doesn’t seem to care. Essentially, Wulfgar just wants to show how far he can go as a bomber and murderer.
Ultimately, Rutger Hauer’s Wulfgar possibly ties Nighthawks together quite nicely – the film wouldn’t seem right without him, but he is surrounded by a good mixture of the following: gritty and dark locations; memorable quotes; realistic action; and a nice score.
The original article can be found here.