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There’s something about a good 80s thriller that just can’t be beat, the gritty realism and synth scores, hard-bitten men, sexy women and grimy stories. The genre came into its own in this decade, evolving into steamy hard-knocking films directed by innovators that sought to challenge as well as entertain. With Against All Odds, it’s all style and mood in a terrific thriller that features exotic locations, great music, and plenty of good romantic fun.
THE STORY: Directed by Taylor Hackford, it centers on Terry Brogan (Jeff Bridges), a professional football player who finds himself out of a job when an injury has the team forcing him out. Jobless and with no money, he’s contacted by an old friend, a smarmy gambler and nightclub owner named Jake Wise (James Woods) who proposes a couple options: be a celebrity bartender or take $30,000 and find his girlfriend Jessie Wyler (Rachel Ward), the daughter of the team owner. Jake says she stabbed him and ran off with his money. Terry reluctantly goes on the hunt and follows a lead to Cozumel, a small island off the coast of Mexico where he finds Jessie living alone with no plans to return. Problem is, after spending time with her, the two fall in love and start a sexual relationship. However, they can hide for only so long before truths are learned and a future together is, well … against all odds.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Despite the thriller aspects, the film is truly a love story and the romance between Terry and Jessie is the heart with a genuinely well-developed relationship that feels pretty darned authentic. There’s great chemistry between Bridges and Ward and the movie does a great job in setting up one direction before shifting it to another.
That’s the thing that works best, that we have a built in expectation of where things are going but have them turned at the halfway mark when things take a dramatic turn, revealing that things are not what they seem. Hackford does both romance and action very well, and uses some great locations to help tell the story, including the beaches of California to the Chichén Itzá ruins in Mexico. It’s a good looking movie.
Look for some great supporting roles from Alex Karras as a man with his own haunts and Saul Rubinek as a slimy agent along with Woods who is more than menacing. The movie is wonderfully 80s of course and is awash in a synthy score that reminds us of such, though there is the sensational titular tune by Phil Collins that closes the films. Great stuff.
A GREAT MOMENT: Terry has a big problem. He’s under Jake’s thumb for a points-shaving scam that Jake could expose at any time. Jake himself is a huge gambler and hinges his success on having Jessie, a woman he truly cares about but can’t let go no matter what. He puts a bit of trust in Terry, legitimately hoping he can find Jessie, maybe suspecting a little that the two might find some sparks, but assuming what he’s got on Terry will be enough to keep him in line.
Naturally, things do get entangled and when Jake realizes that Terry’s not telling him the truth, well, he sets in motion another plan that ends up being very bad for Terry and Jessie, something that puts Terry more under the will of Jake.
Later on, when both Jessie and Terry are forced apart and slowly being constricted by Jake, Terry goes to Jessie. He’s fired up with frustration, forced into action to try and be free of possible blackmail. Jessie is herself chained to Jake and it’s crushing her, with she and Terry so deeply in love but unable to be together, she can hardly breathe. When Terry bombastically enters her apartment, he forces himself on her before she relents and the two become desperate to be free and run away but with no way out have no choice but to keep playing the roles. It’s a powerful, emotional moment that really puts the weight of the plot right on them.
THE TALLY: Hackford knows how to tell a story and always gives the characters in his movies room to breath and develop. Bridges was a sort of sex symbol in the 80s and looks slick as ever and the alluring Ward is beautiful and sensuous. This is one of those movies that made browsing for a popcorn flick at the local video rental store great fun, a clever and ambitious thriller that is as pulpy as it is steamy. It’s what to watch.