While I was scrolling through the various movie channels and setting my weekly recordings, I noticed that on Tuesday at 3am this week, the EPIX HD movie channel is airing the long-lost cult item The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper. Being a child of the 1980’s, there are more than a few under the radar gems that always made me smile or that kept me entertained for one reason or another. Based on the novel Free Fall by J.D. Reed, The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper was one of those titles that I found myself watching on cable (or was it HBO?) repeatedly, never truly understanding it, but enjoying it nonetheless.
I did purchase a Region B DVD of the film (no American disc release has ever occurred, to my knowledge), but was disappointed that the photography had been cropped from 1.85:1 to 1.33:1. The transfer also looked to have been processed in bowls of urine, with the image looking overly yellow in numerous spots. Which is a damn shame because Harry Stradling’s cinematography, in general, is consistently eye-catching, and the film itself is a raucous and totally crazy little adventure that took a real man and real situation and turned the entire thing into the equivalent of story you’d tell or hear at a campfire, or an urban legend that takes on a mind of its own. It’s the truest idea of what a “cult movie” is, or should be, and the behind the scenes rigmarole that accompanied the production is fascinating in its own right. Kino-Lorber or Shout! needs to grab this one and finally release it on Blu-ray; it’s just waiting for the boutique label treatment.
The film has somewhat recently been added as a rental option on Amazon and YouTube.Released in 1981, the narrative centres on wild-man aircraft hijacker D. B. Cooper (Treat Williams in a unique role), who made off with $200,000 in 1971 after leaping from the back of a plane over the Pacific Northwest. The script imagines what it would have been like for Cooper to hide out and attempt to evade capture by law enforcement. Jeffrey Alan Fiskin’s incident-packed screenplay fictionalized most of what happened during Cooper’s escape (because who really knows?), and there’s a certain zippiness to the plotting which keeps a bouncy tone and pace; Fiskin’s other scripting credits include the brilliant and undervalued Cutter’s Way, Tony Scott’s pulpy thriller Revenge, and the gritty Amazon crime series Bosch.
John Frankenheimer was The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper’s original director, and would later denounce the entire production. He was replaced by TV journeyman Buzz Kulik just before shooting began. Then, after the movie was well into production, Kulik was fired and replaced by final collaborator Roger Spottiswoode, who would be the only director to receive an onscreen credit. The film has an interesting, sort of ramshackle visual aesthetic, heightened by a jaunty, honky-tonk-ish score by James Horner. The performances by Robert Duvall (as an insurance investigator) and Williams anchor the film with a level of class and conviction, Kathryn Harrold was a total knockout, and while the overall lightheartedness of the entire endeavor is apparent from frame one, the various action scenes are briskly shot, cut, and executed, especially the opening sequence complete with a real sky-dive done before the era of CGI laziness kicked in.
Review by Nick Clement