From ONE FALSE MOVE and DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS, Carl Franklin seems like a pretty serious, respectable type director even though he’s working in the mystery genre. So what the hell was he doing in 1989 directing EYE OF THE EAGLE II: INSIDE THE ENEMY, a sequel to a Cirio H. Santiago Vietnam shootemup? Well, he was trying to do what a pretty serious, respectable type director would do with something like that.
Like most of the other black directors I’ve been writing about lately Franklin started out as an actor. He was in FIVE ON THE BLACK HAND SIDE and an episode of The Streets of San Francisco and shit like that. His first feature as a director was NOWHERE TO RUN (also from ’89), a drama that stars Jason Priestley but also has Sonny Carl Davis from THE WHOLE SHOOTIN’ MATCH in it.
EYE OF THE EAGLE II is Franklin’s second feature. He wrote it with Dan Gagliasso (NAM ANGELS), it has Cirio Santiago credited as a producer and a bunch of other Santiagos in the credits too, but this is not the type of trashy exploitation I was expecting (hoping for?) after seeing that. I thought it would be one of these Reb Brown type movies with a bunch of dudes running around in jungles, lots of squibs and explosions going off and people yelling. In fact it’s trying for something more interesting, it’s more like it wants to be a shoestring FULL METAL JACKET, with kind of a thoughtful misfit soldier being battered by the realities of the war and trying to do the right thing.
I haven’t seen part 1, but from the character names and plot description the two don’t seem to be connected.
The protagonist I guess is named Anthony, the actor who plays him is credited as William Field but it’s Todd Field, director of IN THE BEDROOM and LITTLE CHILDREN and guy who played Nick Nightingale, the piano player in EYES WIDE SHUT. After boot camp, pre-battle nerves and a scene of innocence where he and another soldier are disturbed by the body of a dead kid, he goes into battle with “HIGH NOON” painted on his helmet. They’re all gung ho but they get blown to shit. One guy sprays machine gun fire every which way, shouting “All right! Get some! Get some!” before being killed by two precise shots. I think it’s Franklin’s take on the ALIENS type takedown of military machismo, or at least SNIPER’s refutation of the RAMBO-era worship of enormous guns and endless ammo supplies.
As lone survivor of the battle Anthony ends up led to safety by a local woman (Shirley Tesoro). They can barely even communicate, but he decides he’s in love with her and after he’s injured and taken off the front lines he happens to run into her in public and he rescues/kidnaps her from some guys. I think he did the right thing because they got her hooked on heroin and forced her into prostitution, but she really doesn’t make it clear that she wants to be taken away or that she remembers who he is, so it comes off as almost a Travis Bickle move.
This is when it turns away from attempted war drama and more to action movie tropes, which honestly is a good thing. He goes up against a corrupt superior officer (I think Andy Wood is the name of the actor, some guy who looks like John Hurt in an enjoyably hateful performance). He’s villainous both in uniform and in his civilian pimp or island dictator clothes. I like that she’s able to identify him with a stick figure drawing.
Unfortunately it’s only in the last 10 minutes that we get a big car chase and shipyard gun fight. On the other hand the most compelling moments are the more complex dramatic ones. There’s a whole thing where he wakes up in a hospital and they give him a medal of heroism. He actually got screwed over and left behind and that’s why his guys got killed, now they’re giving him credit for bravely volunteering to stay and fight. He could just play along, instead he keeps trying to correct the record. There may be some outrage involved because of what happened to his friends, but it plays more like he just doesn’t want to take a medal for something he didn’t do.
This wouldn’t be considered a black movie. Most of the characters are white or Asian. But the most badass scene goes to Renaldo (Ronald William Lawrence, EVE OF DESTRUCTION, RAPID FIRE, THE RING), a black soldier who tries to cover for Anthony. He stares down the Major and makes him so mad he pulls the n-word-card.
Also, Franklin appears in a couple of scenes as “Colonel Rawlins.” I figured this was an early nod to Easy Rawlins fandom before he knew he’d direct DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS, but it turns out this came out the year before the book did, so it’s just a weird coincidence. Or the book was inspired by this movie! Holy shit. That whole Easy Rawlins series is just EYE OF THE EAGLE fan fiction.
Field is a good actor, but this isn’t the most appealing character. I think he’s supposed to be a likable everyman, but he reminds me of a bland, empty person with a simmering rage about nobody realizing what a sweetheart he is. Sometimes when an Anthony Edwards type tries to assert his manhood he just seems like a dick. It doesn’t help that there’s no spark between him and the girl he loves. The love story is all he cares about but it’s kinda pathetic because they don’t even know each other, she’s just his rescue project. Also it seems like he genuinely thinks he’s being a gentleman when he does a “ladies first”…
…in terrain where they’re trying to avoid stepping on landmines or falling into tiger pits. I feel like maybe that goes against the spirit of ladies first.
I’m not totally sure what “Inside the Enemy” means. Of course the obvious choice would be that he has his penis inside someone classified as “VC” by his superiors. Or it could be that the real enemy is the United States military and he is inside it so he is inside the enemy. Or something. Or maybe it doesn’t mean anything, it just sounded subtitley enough.
I can’t really recommend this picture, but I found it interesting as a formative Carl Franklin work. It was only three years before ONE FALSE MOVE put him on the map with critics, so this is an example of the kind of thing I like where a director is able to put their stamp on lowbrow genre movies and later evolve into whatever it is they want to do (unless they want to stick with the lowbrow genre movies, which could be just as good).
I guess Franklin never really made a huge splash. I’ve heard his 2003 Denzel reteam OUT OF TIME is pretty good, so I’ll have to watch that. These days he’s mostly a TV director, but since he did an episode of Homeland and four episodes of House of Cards I guess plenty of people are seeing and enjoying his work. Probly more people saw those than BLESS ME ULTIMA, the indie war drama he did last year. I guess that’s where the mercenary work is now, doing TV shows instead of Cirio Santiago movies. Oh well.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.