Boiling Point

(James B. Harris, USA, 1993)


Boiling Point seems like it will be the final movie from writer-director James B. Harris, and is thus essential viewing for any true film buff.

Once Stanley Kubrick’s close collaborator, Harris began directing with The Bedford Incident (1965) and thereafter managed to make only four films, all of them unique and eccentric experiments. Cop (1987) with James Woods seemed like Harris’ breakthrough into a successful mainstream career, but his long-awaited follow-up act is once again an odd, uncompromising film.

The title may suggest a tense, action thriller but this is in truth an extremely low key, even whimsical cop film. Like those gritty classics of the ’50s that obviously made an indelible impression on Harris – Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle (1950) or Kubrick’s The Killing (1956) – this is a film about losers, small time criminals and disgruntled law enforcers whose lives are slowly but surely coming apart. Harris displays an especially droll insight into the seductive ruses of desperate men – and the women who keep falling for them.

Boiling Point is structured upon an elaborate network of crisscrossing paths. A rebel cop (Wesley Snipes) investigates a murder case, unaware that he is sometimes within inches of his main target, a flakey criminal entrepreneur just out of jail (Dennis Hopper). This cop is also unaware that he and his nemesis share the services of the same prostitute (Lolita Davidovich). The plot, which has an exquisitely slow burn, allows us to discover all the characters and their motivations in a leisurely, rueful way.

Harris’s genius lies in the witty, almost throwaway bits of interpersonal business he devises, and in the performances he manages to coax from his cast. Every actor plays against their usual screen type: Snipes is endearingly hang-dog whilst Hopper is quietly nutty.

For those who can appreciate the subtle, incidental charms of a film playing in the margins of a formulaic genre, Boiling Point makes for fascinating viewing.

© Adrian Martin March 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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