A largely overlooked, yet excellent, thriller film from 1996 is The Long Kiss Goodnight directed by Renny Harlin. The preceding year Harlin had directed Cutthroat Island and both movies shared a similar fate: general obscurity, but with a small fan base. The big action blockbuster hit of 1996 was The Rock directed by Michael Bay who also helmed the sleeper-hit of 1995 with Bad Boys. Both of Bay’s movies were produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (Jew) and are supremely bland, cardboard cut-out quality action films. Perhaps, The Rock is slightly helped by Hans Zimmer’s excellent score, but all that means is that you should get the soundtrack! Avoid the movie.
In the big budget film industry, Michael Bay and Renny Harlin went on to become dynamic opposites, just like their movies. Bad Boys was just a buddy cop comedy with blatant machismo and MTV style editing – Michael Bay started his directing career making music videos – and the movie went on to becoming the surprise hit of 1995. Cutthroat Island was film about honorable cooperation between characters with skillfully choreographed action sequences – Renny Harlin started in film with some shorts before securing funding for feature length projects – with some minor hits during his first Hollywood years he temporarily sold his artistry and made a Nightmare on Elm Street 4, Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger. These films, while perhaps slightly above par in their respective genres, were not really all that special in any way, but they did build up Harlin’s reputation and he was finally given practically full creative control on his next project, Cutthroat Island. Unfortunately that movie flopped with only $10 million at the box office, a measly sum compared to the film’s $100 million dollar budget.
Did this deter Harlin? Did he realize that he must conform to Hollywood’s unwritten rules to have a career there? He probably did realize, but guess what he didn’t do? Conform. The Long Kiss Goodnight shares many thematic similarities with Cutthroat Island and it was also a flop with just over $33 million box office earnings from a $65 million budget. Like it’s predecessor, the film also forges new ground and challenges Tinseltown’s bigoted conventions. It also, in a somewhat subtle way, challenges ZC.
The movie begins in an small All-American down during the Christmas season with Samantha Caine narrating about her happy, but unusual life. She is a teacher at an elementary school, has a daughter, Caitlin, and lives with a boyfriend, Hal, in a comfortable suburban house. The usual part is that Caine is only 8 years old! She awoke on a beach 8 years ago with many scars and was 2 months pregnant at the time. Her amnesia prevents her from remembering anything that led to that point. She has hired detectives to investigate her past, but they didn’t manage to find out anything of significance. Now she is down to hiring “the cheap ones” as her eagerness to find out perseveres.
Mitch Henessey is this cheap detective and he is certainly a man of moral ambiguity. His introductory scene has him barging in on a man with a prostitute and slyly getting the man to bribe him in order to keep the incident quiet. It is only in the next scene that we find out that he is actually Caine’s PI and that the “prostitute” in the scene was actually his coworker – they run a little scheme to earn extra cash.
In these beginning scenes we also meet the mysterious Mr. Perkins, a shady government agent, who runs a spy network and needs more funding approved by the President to carry out certain operations. And there is also Timothy, a criminal though it seems like he is very organized and capable – perhaps he could even be called a “terrorist.”
These beginning scenes also show that something is not right with Samantha Caine, she begins to recall little bits and pieces of what must be her past life. First, she begins to expertly cut vegetables in the kitchen – “I used to be a chef!” – before throwing a knife and impaling a pepper in the wall, much to the shock of Hal and Caitlin. Then, she yells at her daughter for crying after she falls over skating, but then forgets the specifics of what she said to Caitlin. The third and final thing that gets Caine to seek out her past is a visit from a one-eyed assassin – “I want my eye back, bitch!” – who, after a pretty rough fight, Caine manages to take out. This fight also ends with some interesting genre breaking – she takes the villain down by smashing a pie into his face. This image is rampant in cartoon gags and most often ends in a harmless laugh. Yet here it results in a violent knockout – the glass plate that the pie was on smashes against the assassin’s face and he falls to the ground and Caine breaks his neck. The movie just told the audience that cartoon violence doesn’t exist – it’s a myth.
That scene is also the second neck breaking of the film. The first one is actually right near the beginning as Caine is taking a drunken party guest home, who starts to act up in the car, and this distraction proves nearly fatal – there’s a deer on the road, hypnotized by the headlights. The car hits the deer which flies through part of the windshield and hits the drunken guy, the car goes out of control and hits a tree, Caine flies out through the windshield. This is where she gets her first flashbacks, by seeing herself surreal mirror. Note that mirrors contain silver. Later, a real mirror will serve up a key revelation as the truth gets closer to surface. This scene also has another key image: the deer that was hit is not dead, but twitching its broken body in the snow. Caine sees the deer, which is bleeding only from its neck – failed kosher slaughter – so Caine ends the suffering with a swift neck break.
There is also an interesting bit of character conventions being smashed. Trin, Henessey’s secretary, is first shown as a prostitute in the trick that she and Henessey pull off to get some cash. Many female roles are sexualized in Hollywood, and small roles like Trin’s might as well be prostitutes – they’re just there to fill a quota or for “diversity” but are thrown away soon. Trin, though a small role, is not at all like this. She is still dressed in a sexualized way, though this is probably just a character idiosyncrasy of hers, but the important thing is that she figures out a key piece of evidence that allows Henessey to resume his investigation of Caine’s past. Thus, she is not just a regular sideline bimbo – the quality of her character is quite the opposite.
Pieces of the Past
Trin’s investigation provided a phone number and this ends up being a former contact that Caine had years ago. The contact, Mr. Waldman, intructs her to a meeting point at a train station for the next day. That night, however, Caine’s past starts to come more and more to the surface. Henessey notices that she begins to curse more. She also finds a disassembled rifle and an assassin’s knife in a hidden compartment of her suitcase. She puts the rifle together – in front of a mirror, the film’s second mirror – and then sees the image of herself from the surreal mirror… the image lashes out of the mirror with the knife! This ends up being only a dream, but the rifle that Caine put together is there. Henessey, surprised by the rifle, thinks that Caine is crazy and begins to head home. In the car he then proceeds into a lament of how he ended up working as a cheap private eye: he used to be a big city cop, but after trying to steal some bonds to make quick cash he was busted and spent four years in prison. “I never did one thing right in my life. That takes skill,” says Henessey with a glum look. He then decides to not head home and actually take Caine to meet Mr. Waldman. This scene aptly shows a key change in Henessey – he finally follows through with something and not just for his own gain, he take a vital step towards a sense of duty.
At the train station, we meet Timothy once again. He tries to see if Caine will recognize him, but she doesn’t. Apparently, he is a part of her past. A key part at that, since he orders some goons to kill Caine and Henessey! As a gentleman approaches Caine, she thinks he may be Waldman, but he man draws a gun. In a quick reaction, almost soldierly, Caine reaches into Henessey’s coat and shoots the would-be-killer. They decide to run for it, but more assassins swarm into the station and open fire with Caine and Henessey barely managing to make it out. This scene is also another key genre breaker as at least 20 innocent people get caught in the cross fire. Bystander deaths are still a taboo in Hollywood movies, despite many of them containing raging shootouts. Harlin, however, just shows violence for what it is – grim and bloody.
After making it out of the train station they finally meet the real Waldman who instantly recognizes Caine and tells her the truth about her past, which makes sense of those small past moments – she used to be Charlene Elizabeth Baltimore, an assassin working for the United States Government and it was Waldman who trained her. Note how she is told all this: as Waldman looks at her through the rearview mirror of the car – the third key mirror of the film, it’s not part of a dream or hallucination, it is just plain real and right in front of Caine. She learns the truth in steps through silver.
Henessey doubts all that is said and convinces Caine to abandon Waldman, which they promptly do. Caine doesn’t believe Waldman, since all evidence points to her being formerly engaged to a man named Luke – doesn’t sound like a secret agent story. However, there is a great flip of reality next – “engaged” is actually code for “assassin ready to strike” and the whole character of Samantha Caine was actually a cover story invented by one Charlene Baltimore (Caine’s real identity) as a part of her moving in to kill a target, an arms dealer named Daedalus (for whom “Luke” serves as a cover). Also, as things turn out, Timothy is a key enforcer for Luke/Daedalus and promptly shows up at the farm and Caine, Henessey, and Waldman are taken prisoner.
Daedulus needs to find out why his former would-be-assassin has all of a sudden shown up at his hideout. So he tortures Caine on a water wheel, and this wheel is shown to have a three-diameter/six-point design. Waldman has already been killed, drowned beneath the wheel. While submerged, Caine’s past comes back to her in full and she takes up her former role of assassin and gets out of another tight situation – by finding a hidden gun that Waldman previously mentioned having on his person, she shoot Daedalus, thus completing her mission from 8 years ago.
There is some interesting imagery in this part of the film. First off, the water wheel, a farm tool (the scene takes place on a farm) used to torture Caine, can be seen as a way of getting Aryanism to collapse in on itself by using Aryan symbols to destroy Aryanism. The real World stigmatization of the Swastika is an example.
The scene also avoids what would have been some straightforward sensationalism by not showing much of the violence. Instead, the film cuts to Henessey, who has been chained up a cellar. We then hear shooting break out for a few seconds and then… quiet. The sounds of violence end just as quickly as they had started and this image is shown:
Caine stands at the top of a pyramid composition. Symbolically, she has just destroyed the classic pyramid metaphor for elitism, the most infamous of which is on the back of the US Dollar bill. Notice, that there are 13 steps completely shown in the shot, while the lower ones get cut off. The Eye of Zion pyramid on the one dollar bill has 13 brick layers with the Eye at the top. Caine has effectively replaced the Eye at the top of the power structure. She uses to new found power to free Henessey, who is trapped below. Note that even before this shot, there is a more subliminal pyramid formed by the rays of light that come through the ceiling as Henessey looks up when he hears the shooting. This symbolism will be relevant during the film’s final revelations.
Putting it Together
The mysterious Mr. Perkins re-enters the plot at this point. Note that Caitlin’s teddy bear is named Mr. Perkins, it must have been a present from her mother, and the name didn’t come from just anywhere – Mr. Perkin’s is Caine’s former boss, the one who assigned her to kill Daedalus. As things turned out, Mr. Perkins has actually hired Daedalus and Timothy for some mysterious job. We get a hint of this in Perkins’ first scene has he talks to the US President about securing more funding, but the situation looks unfavorable since Perkin’s must explain how he lost track of an agent, while the President simply says that the money will be better off in Healthcare. This scene even takes place in a kitchen, but why a kitchen? Doesn’t the US President have a better place to meet with his advisors? I think it is to show the invasive nature of Perkins as well as him trying to “feed bullshit” to the President – Perkins is a parasitic advisor.
Also, worth noting is that the actor who plays Perkins, Patrick Malahide, also played the corrupt Governor Ainslee in Cutthroat Island just a year before and also directed by Renny Harlin. Thematically, these two characters are very much alike – self-serving, law breaking, out for their own gain without regard for others. Though Ainslee was just an opportunist, while Perkins is ready to do some serious manipulating to get the situation to conform to his liking. Just what might this be? We shall soon find out.
Meanwhile, Caine seems to be enjoying her new self – “The name’s Charly… the spy! Please to meet you.” She even cuts her hair and dyes it blonde, as she saw herself in the vision from the past. Henessey, however, doesn’t like this new change and says that the personality for Samantha Caine must have come from somewhere, to which Caine (now as Baltimore) just scoffs. She even tore up and threw out her pictures of Hal and Caitlin and even offers Henessey a romp, which he refuses. This is another bit of character genre breaking. Stereotypically, the Black man lusts after the White blonde woman, but here it is the White blonde who is the lusty one and despite having a sure chance, Henessey backs away and tells “Charly the Spy” that he liked “that school teacher” a lot more and reminds her to call Caitlin. Caine/Baltimore is now just plain disgusted and walks out of the room.
Her spy skepticism has come back as well as despite wanting to go back to work as an assassin, she doesn’t just blindly trust Perkins and then becomes sure that something is not as it used to be after Perkins dispatches goons to kill her. She and Henessey manage to escape and Caine/Baltimore decides to just be Baltimore from now on. She remember that a little key that she always wore as a braclet, and one that she left at home on Caitlin’s teddy bear, Mr. Perkins, actually opens a safe-deposit box that has a lot of money in it. This is presumably cached operating funds from Perkins’ agency. As Baltimore goes to get the key, she sees her daughter and Hal, along with the rest of the community, in church and the children are performing a Nativity play. Caitlin is dressed as an angel and it is Christmas Eve at this point in the story. Baltimore is moved by what she sees and reconsiders her decision to abandon her family and life in this town, but then hears that Henessey is in trouble. Perkins’ agents have tracked them to this town and while she manages to save Henessey from pursuers, they proved to be only a distraction as Timothy swoops in an kidnaps Caitlin back at the church.
Thus, we reach the film’s final act, where all that has occured, will now up to some startling conclusions.