ⓘ Shoot to Kill (1988 film)


ⓘ Shoot to Kill (1988 film)

Shoot to Kill is a 1988 American action thriller film directed by Roger Spottiswoode and starring Sidney Poitier, Tom Berenger, Clancy Brown, Andrew Robinson and Kirstie Alley.


1. Plot

A man is discovered breaking into his own San Francisco jewelry shop in the dead of night. Upon questioning by the FBI, it is discovered that his wife is being held hostage at their home by a brutal extortionist who demands the diamonds in the shops safe in exchange for the womans life. During a standoff outside the jewelers home, the family maid is sent out the front door with a message for the FBI. As she is walking away from the house, the extortionist shoots her in the back, the message being that he is a cold-blooded killer and will not hesitate to kill anyone who gets in his way. The as yet unseen extortionist orders the FBI via a whispering voice so as to conceal his identity as much as possible to place handcuffs and a police radio in the jewelers Mercedes which he will use to escape the standoff. As the front door to the home opens, a male and female figure appear at the door, covered by a large blanket so their heads and upper bodies cannot be seen, the idea being to thwart a sniper getting a shot on the killer. The killer and the jewelers wife travel in the Mercedes to the docks with FBI agent Warren Stantin Sidney Poitier following them. With a FBI sniper concealed in the back seat of the Stantins car, Stantin and the sniper decide the risk to the innocent woman is too great to attempt a shot. Following a tense exchange of words between Stantin and the killer, a single shot is seen and heard at the end of the pier in dense fog. As Stantin runs to the end of the pier he discovers the jewelers wife dead via a gunshot to the right eye. At the same time, a boat is heard starting and running at full throttle away from the pier. Using radar on law enforcement boats, the boat is tracked to the other side of the bay in the fog where it runs aground. Upon reaching the boat, Stantin discovers that the boat has been unmanned all along and the killer gets away. Feeling that he has failed, Stantin becomes obsessed with finding the killer and trails him into the rugged forests of the state of Washington.

Upon Stantins arrival in Washington, a naked male body is discovered in a local mine shaft. Stantin arrives to investigate the body and sees that the man has been shot through the eye just as the jewelers wife was. In addition, Stantin finds several clumps of cut hair. The only thing Stantin knows of the killer so far is that he has long hair and a beard. Stantin becomes convinced that the person responsible for the killing of the man in the mine is same person he encountered in San Francisco and now knows the killer has likely assumed the identity of the dead man. Upon further investigation, it is learned that fishing parties meet a guide, Sarah Rennell Kirstie Alley, at the base of the mine for a fishing adventure into the woods. Stantin learns that Sarahs partner in business and in life, Jonathon Knox Tom Berenger, is an expert on the local wilderness and Stantin seeks Knoxs help locating Sarah and the fishermen. Unimpressed with a big city FBI agent, Knox prepares to head into the wilderness alone to rescue Sarah. Under threat of arrest for obstruction of justice, Knox finally agrees to lead Stantin into the mountains. Knox and Stantin begin their pursuit on horseback where it becomes apparent that Stantin is not in his element. Knox repeatedly tries to convince Stantin to return to the town and wait for him at a local motel but Stantin refuses and trudges on. Knox continues to track the fishing party until it is clear that they can no longer proceed on horseback and they resume the pursuit on foot.

Meanwhile, the fishing party proceeds into the mountains. At a rest stop, Sarah chats with each of the fishermen while tension builds as the audience has no idea which of the fishermen are the killer. The fishing trip goes as planned until a member of the party Richard Masur slips on a ledge and while being helped by another fisherman, Steve Clancy Brown, a gun falls out of Steves backpack and into a crack in the rocks between Steve and the fisherman. Before helping the man back up the ledge, he tells the fisherman that he is a cop and demands the dangling fisherman hand him the gun. Once Steve has the gun in hand, Steve pretends to get the fisherman back up the ledge until Steve purposely lets the fisherman fall to his death on the rocks below. Hearing the commotion, the other fishermen come to their aid and Steve throws them one by one from the ledge where they all perish. Needing Sarah as his guide, Steve convinces Sarah to guide him through the mountains to Canada where he says he will let her go.

While in pursuit, Knox and Stantin encounter a basket on a rope that is used to cross a gorge. With the basket stuck on the opposite side, Knox shimmys along the rope to get the basket when it breaks free and begins rolling back toward Knox. Knox is hit by the basket but fortunately he has tied a safety rope to himself that Stantin is anchoring. Knox falls several feet until the slack in the rope is gone and Knox is brutally slammed against the rocks. Stantin uses all of his strength to pull the rope and Knox up the rock face to safety. With Knox on safe ground, an exhausted Stantin asks Knox "Do you mountain men do this kind of sh*t a lot?" to which Knox replies "Every damn day." Stantin and Knox make camp for the night where Knox prepares a cooking fire. Eating what he assumes is rabbit, Stantin finds that what hes actually eating is a marmot and is thoroughly grossed out.

Steve and Sarah stop for the night at a cabin that is typically used by the fishing parties and Sarah is tied to the rafters of the cabin. While using the radio under duress to make the regularly scheduled check-in, the authorities try to convince Sarah to stay at the cabin until further notice due to an approaching storm. Aware that it could be a ruse, Steve forces Sarah to tell the authorities that she is alone and can speak freely. The FBI takes over the conversation and notifies Sarah that one of the fishermen in her party is an imposter and a dangerous killer. Stantin and Knox stumble upon the bodies of the fishermen in the stream and Knox becomes convinced that Sarah is now dead. Upon reaching the cabin occupied by Steve and Sarah the previous evening, Stantin and Knox discover a note to the FBI in Sarahs handwriting from the killer. Knox realizes that Sarah is still alive and questions Stantin about the killer where it is revealed that Stantin botched the San Francisco incident. Stantin convinces Knox that Sarah will not come to harm as long as they stay hot on their trail.

The next morning, Knox attempts to leave Stantin at the cabin, thinking he will make better time alone. Stantin tackles Knox and informs him that he has been up against bigger threats than Knox, including the KGB and KKK. Knox, realizing its pointless to continue the argument, resumes the pursuit with Stantin in tow. As Stantin and Knox rise ever higher into the mountains, Stantin has a very difficult time with the altitude and Knox has to remind him to keep saying his name over and over again so he doesnt lose consciousness. Convinced that Stantin has no strength remaining, Knox leaves him with a tent on a ledge and begins to climb the rock face so he can save time by going over the mountain rather than around it. As Knox climbs, he looks down and finds Stantin feebly climbing the mountain behind him. Although exhausted, Stantin continues to try to make the climb while Knox tries to convince him to go back. When Stantin is too exhausted to go further, Knox realizes that he cannot leave Stantin on the mountain and pulls him up the rest of the way.

Steve attempts to light a cooking fire but when it gets too smokey, Steve puts the fire out fearing authorities will be able to locate them. With no way to cook their fish, Sarah begins to eat the fish raw, much to Steves disgust. Meanwhile, Stantin and Knox are caught in a major snowstorm on top of the mountain. Knox discovers that Stantins clothes are soaking wet and that he will die shortly if they do not find shelter. Knox begins to dig a snow cave for Stantin and himself. Once in the cave, Knox removes their clothing and they use their body heat to stay warm while they wait out the storm.

With the storm passed, Knox and a recovered Stantin return to the pursuit with a new respect for one another. Getting closer with each step, Stantin and Knox close in on Steve and Sarah. At one point, Stantin and Knox encounter a very large Grizzly Bear. While slowly turning around to give the bear space, the bear begins to charge them. When Knox falls and hits his head on a rock, incapacitating him, a desperate Stantin turns and waves his arms and yells at the bear which forces the bear to retreat. After Knox remarks that he had never seen a Grizzly Bear turn and run like that, Stantin replies "Everyone else around here acts like theyve never seen a black man before. Why should he be any different?"

Sarah manages to break free of Steve and begins to run away from him. In desperation, Steve fires his gun at her. Stantin and Knox hear the gunshots and realize that they are very close to Steve and Sarah. Sarah breaks out of the forest and onto a mountain highway. With Knox running along the road to catch up with them, Steve recaptures Sarah and they get into the cab of a passing logging truck, leaving a defeated Stantin and Knox on the side of the road.

Stantin and Knox arrive at the headquarters of the British Columbia Police and learn of a break-in to a local residence. During their investigation, they learn that Steve and Sarah had broken into the residence to eat and clean up. The investigation also turns up that a call to a Vancouver number was made from the residence during the robbery. The local police extend their assistance to Stantin and Knox goes along for the ride. Stantin learns that the Vancouver number that was called from the residence was to a diamond broker. Later that evening, Stantin and Knox stage a break-in to the home of the diamond broker. While seemingly preparing to kill him and burn down his home, the diamond broker loudly confesses as to where he is meeting Steve to get the diamonds. As he is confessing, the local police walk into the home when it becomes clear to the diamond broker that he is in a lot of legal trouble.

Stantin and Knox stake out the meeting location and find Steve forcefully holding Sarah waiting for the diamond broker. Steve spots Knox and begins shooting at him in a public area where panic ensues. Steve and Sarah carjack a vehicle while Stantin and Knox chase them through the city streets. After losing sight of Steve and Sarah during the chase, Stantin and Knox discover the stolen vehicle on a departing ferry and begin searching for Steve and Sarah. While the local police officers board the ferry where the car was located, Stantin and Knox realize that Steve and Sarah are on another ferry, having used the vehicle as a decoy. Stantin and Knox board the second ferry as it leaves the dock and begin searching for Steve and Sarah. Stantin and Knox locate Steve and Sarah and begin a shoot-out with Steve on the vehicle level of the ferry. Eventually a standoff between Stantin and Steve occurs on the mid-level of the ferry. Holding a gun to Sarahs head, he attempts to negotiate with Stantin but Stantin orders Steve to let Sarah go or die. When Knox jumps down from an upper level to distract Steve, Stantin shoots Steve in the ear and he lets Sarah go. Stantin continues to chase Steve through the public areas of the ferry, causing panic and chaos in the process. Steve almost takes a woman and her child hostage on the ferry when Stantin rushes forward to stop him. Steve shoots Stantin multiple times. Steve approaches Stantin and is about to shoot Stantin in the eye when his gun misfires. An angry Steve grabs Stantin and attempts to throw him overboard but he falls into the water with Stantin. While fighting under water, Stantin is able to reach his gun and shoots Steve multiple times and Steve falls away into the dark water, presumably dead. Knox jumps into the water and brings Stantin to safety. While visiting with Stantin in the ambulance, Knox asks Stantin "You FBI guys do this kind of sh*t a lot?" to which Stantin replies "Every damn day."


2. Reception

Critically well received, the film currently holds a rare 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Janet Maslin of The New York Times remarked that it "marks the return of Sidney Poitier after a long absence from the screen, and a reappearance of good old-fashioned storytelling technique as well. This is essentially a formula film, and as such its nothing fancy. But it has crisp, spare direction, enormous momentum and a story full of twists and turns. For anyone who thinks they dont make spine-tingling detective films the way they used to, good news: theyve just made another."

In a three-star review, Roger Ebert recalled that it was "yet another example, rather late in the day, of the buddy movie, that most dependable genre from the early 1970s. The formula still works. Two characters who have nothing in common are linked together on a dangerous mission, and after a lot of close calls they survive, prevail and become buddies." He stated that Poitier "is probably not going to win any awards for this performance, but it’s nice to have him back."

In a mixed review, Shelia Benson opined in the Los Angeles Times that "too many cooks overlooked too many mistakes of character and logic here; they seem to have made characters out of smudgy carbons instead of living tissue. The Poitier and Berenger roles are perfunctorily sketched, their exchanges sometimes excruciatingly embarrassing. It’s nice to have a leading woman who knows her way around the outdoors, but every chance possible to have intelligence pitted against brute force has been ignored. In" Shoot to Kill” MPAA-rated R for violence the scenery is wild, the movie is a walk on the tame side."