There are some real-life stories that are too amazing not to be depicted on film. The only unsolved air piracy in commercial aviation history is one such notable event. An unknown man who would come to be known as D.B. Cooper hijacked a Boeing 727 aircraft in November of 1971 and collected a ransom of $200,000 before parachuting into an unknown region of southwestern Washington never to be heard of again. While the truth is he most likely died during this robbery, the mystery surrounding the identity of this man has remained a part of popular culture ever since.
Of course, Hollywood capitalized by fictionalizing stories about this man in film such as The Pursuit Of D.B. Cooper, which was unleashed upon the world in 1981. The story behind the production of this film is almost as interesting as the crime; the film started out being directed by John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate) before being taken over by Buzz Kulik (Brian’s Song) before eventually being cleaned up by Roger Spottiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies). The film also evolved from being a self-serious Vietnam docu-drama to a chase comedy reminiscent of Smokey and the Bandit. With all of the different cooks in the kitchen, it is amazing that this movie turned out as entertaining as it did.
The D.B. Cooper of this film is Jim Meade (Treat Williams, Prince Of The City), an ex-Army man who wants more out of his life for himself and his wife, Hannah (Kathryn Harrold, Modern Romance). Jim is first seen beginning his journey where the real-life journey ended: parachuting out of the rear of an airplane. As he lands in the deep forest of Washington State, we soon learn that nothing was done on a whim. His army training is put to good use as he evades a manhunt by authorities through previously-hidden vehicles and an affable charm that fools more than one policeman. The ways in which he manages to both avoid detection and conceal his money is quite impressive. Not as easily fooled is Bill Gruen (Robert Duvall, Days of Thunder), Meade’s sergeant in the Army turned insurance investigator who puts the pieces together fast enough in order to get hot on the trail for his company where they do not have to pay out a huge claim. Finally, there is Meade’s Army buddy, Remson (Paul Gleason, The Breakfast Club), who remembered Meade talking about hijacking an aircraft.
Even if you were not fully aware of all of the behind the scenes drama that went on during the production of the film, you would still be able to sense all was not perfect. When Spottiswoode took over as director, he brought along Ron Shelton (Bull Durham) to help reshape the script into what would become an estimated 70% of the final product. Most of the material has a sense of levity to it, including the manic cockiness of Williams as Jim, but there are echoes of the straightforward postwar drama that was originally conceived. Once Jim reconnects with Hannah and they find themselves on the run from Bill, scenes range from supremely zany to downright tense. Neither choice is necessarily the wrong one, but the character can feel a bit inconsistent in intention from one scenario to the next. The addition of Remson certainly feels like a late addition to the film, as every time Gleason is on screen he is being made to look like a fool – being locked in trunks, bound in a stack of tires, etc. Less cartoonish but still very fun is the relationship between Jim and Hannah. A mid-film love scene is taken to inventive lengths while also providing more laughs, not to mention being paid off later in the narrative.
The main interplay that grounds the film is the cat-and-mouse relationship between Jim and Bill. Duvall plays this character expertly as he avoids becoming one-note in his antagonism. He is not just a heartless villain chasing down Meade for no reason. He has something to prove to himself that goes beyond scoring a win for his company. Along with the pretty steady laughs, the film provides some thrilling sequences including a duel between a single-engine airplane and a moving car that will make you grip your seat a little tighter. The film has a stitched-together quality that can feel erratic, which in turns makes some leaps in logic that much more glaring, but it remains a lot of fun at the end of the day. All of the performers put forth strong performances and the film does not feel like it overstays its welcome. For as much trouble as it had behind the scenes, it should be a complete mess. Thankfully, the creative team behind this managed to salvage it into something entertaining.
The Pursuit Of D.B. Cooper makes its Blu-Ray debut courtesy of Kino Classics with a digital AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1 that appears to be derived from a really solid older master that is in good shape. Instances of print damage such as nicks and scratches occasionally pop up, but overall clarity and detail is excellent. The presentation is enjoyable throughout most of the runtime with image stability and delineation being top notch. This transfer maintains the natural film grain of the presentation with only minor instances of it seeming a bit thick. The most troublesome instances of this are in the opening and closing moments of the film when credits come into play. The picture can run a bit soft in long shots, but colors are well saturated with the bright hues of nature coming through. Skin tones are natural and consistent with subtle facial features easily noticeable in closeup. Black levels hold up well with very little in the way of crush. This presentation is a really nice effort that should please fans.
This new Blu-Ray comes with a lossless DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio mix that features all of the sounds of the film quite well. This is a film that utilizes music well, including the buoyant score from James Horner. This and all of the other music is presented with great clarity and a pleasing fidelity as they come through the room. The dialogue holds up wonderfully, coming through clearly without being stepped on by the music or sound effects. The environmental effects are delineated nicely from the hustle and bustle of police at crime scenes to the nature sounds that come from the time on the run. The track avoids most instances of age related wear and tear or distortion. This is a track that represents the film in a solid manner. Optional English subtitles are provided on this disc.
- Audio Commentary: Screenwriter Jeffrey Alan Fiskin and Film Historian/Filmmaker Daniel Kremer provide a very insightful commentary track which reveals a lot of behind-the-scenes drama including the multiple drafts, changing writers/directors, the casting of the film and more. This is a pretty juicy track that is very illuminating with nary a moment of dead air.
- TV Spots: A minute-and-a-half collection of TV spots are provided here.
- Radio Spots: A minute-and-a-half collection of radio spots are provided here.
- Trailers: There are two trailers provided for The Pursuit Of D.B. Cooper. There are also trailers provided for Honky Tonk Freeway, Take This Job And Shove It, Million Dollar Mystery, Tender Mercies and Deep Rising.
The Pursuit Of D.B. Cooper is a film that is surprisingly quite entertaining considering the troubled production associated with it. It is a little rough around the edges including some jarring tonal shifts, but it has a propulsive energy that rarely leaves you feeling bored. The performances are pretty great all around, especially the legendary Robert Duvall turning in a nuanced turn as a complicated antagonist. Kino Classics has released a Blu-Ray featuring a pretty solid A/V presentation and a few great special features. If you are a fan of lighthearted chase films, this one goes down easy on a weekend afternoon. Recommended
The Pursuit Of D.B. Cooper will be available to purchase on Blu-Ray on October 26, 2021.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Kino Classics has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.