48 Hrs.

Director: Walter Hill
Screenplay: Roger Spottiswoode and Walter Hill & Larry Gross and Steven E. de Souza
Stars: Nick Nolte (Jack Cates), Eddie Murphy (Reggie Hammond), Annette O’Toole (Elaine), Frank McRae (Haden), James Remar (Ganz), David Patrick Kelly (Luther), Sonny Landham (Billy Bear), Brion James (Kehoe), Kerry Sherman (Rosalie), Jonathan Banks (Algren), James Keane (Vanzant)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1982
Country: U.S.
48 Hrs. Paramount Presents Blu-ray
48 Hrs.

Walter Hill’s 48 Hrs. is one of the defining films of Hollywood in the 1980s. However, like a number of early ’80s films, among which I would count Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (1981), and Ted Kotcheff’s First Blood (1982), it straddles the line between the darker, grittier, more dour American cinema of the ’70s, with its parade of political paranoia and loser anti-heroes, and the music-video-slick, winner-take-all ethos of the Don Simpson-Jerry Bruckheimer revolution that was to come. The plot is pure formula—a grizzled police detective must partner for the titular period of time with a streetwise convict on temporary release to catch a bad guy—but Hill’s sharp, pared-down direction and the central performances by Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy elevate it above what it might have become in lesser hands.

The film opens with Ganz (James Remar), the film’s primary villain, making a daring prison escape from a desolate chain gang working on a railroad track with help from his partner, a hulking Native American named Billy Bear (Sonny Landham). The case falls to Jack Cates (Nick Nolte), a hard-drinking, hard-working, deeply cynical police detective who is always on the wrong side of both his long-suffering girlfriend, Elaine (Annette O’Toole), and his captain (Frank McRae). To catch Ganz, who is hiding out in various locations around Los Angeles while he tries to reclaim a large stash of money from a former associate named Luther (David Patrick Kelly), Cates enlists the assistance of Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy in his big screen debut), another of Ganz’s former associates who is doing time in prison and is scheduled to be released in six months.

Jack and Reggie are the proverbial mismatched odd-couple, with Nolte’s gnarled determination and lackadaisical appearance making a stark contrast with Murphy’s quick wit and stylish demeanor. When Jack tries to put Reggie down by telling him that he’s still a “low-life” despite his $500 suit, Reggie immediately shoots back, “Yeah, but I look good,” which essentially summarizes their opposing worldviews. And, yet, they’re not so different, which is why their partnership hums despite all the discord. They are both, in their respective ways, hellbent on their own desires at the expense of all else. Both of them want to get Ganz, albeit for different reasons: Jack wants to prove himself and Reggie wants revenge. Yet, Reggie’s revenge motives are constantly set aside in favor of his desire to partake of the joys of the outside world, namely sex, which he pursues in the most direct, crass means possible. Meanwhile, Jack’s relationship with Elaine is constantly being put on a back burner, so much so that it starts to feel less like character insight and more like plot filler.

The plot was cobbled together by a small army of screenwriters: Roger Spottiswoode, for whom this was a lone writing effort before he became a prolific director of slick Hollywood action and comedy like Under Fire (1983), Air America (1990), and Tomorrow Never Dies (1997); director Walter Hill and Larry Gross, who would later team up on Streets of Fire (1984), Another 48 Hrs. (1990), and Geronimo: An American Legend (1993); and Steven E. de Souza, who was graduating from a decade of television writing to raw-meat action films like Commando (1985) and Die Hard (1988). It’s all pro forma and doesn’t hold much weight (especially since Ganz is such a generic, snarling villain), but Nolte and Murphy make it work.

And part of what makes their relationship work is that it is surprisingly raw. While the interracial buddy-cop movie would become a popular subgenre throughout the decade and beyond, partially due to the surprise success of 48 Hrs., most of them are fairly bland and conservative in their approach to racial tensions. Not 48 Hrs.. While most people (rightly) think of the sequence in which Reggie brings the members of a redneck bar to their knees by impersonating a police officer, it is Jack’s racial animosity that really gives the film some bite. Jack’s racism is partly a product of his need to keep Reggie in line, but it is also fundamentally who he is. Jack is, to put it bluntly, a racist, something that Reggie recognizes and endures because he doesn’t have a choice. Murphy, especially at this early stage in his career, was known primarily for his attitude and coarse wit, but here he also reveals hints of vulnerability as a black man—a convict, no less—shackled to a racist for two days. Where the film really works is in the way it subtly and slowly allows Jack to shed most of his prejudices and see Reggie in a new light. There isn’t a big moment of recognition or major speech or apologies, but rather a progression of moments culminating in what appears to be a genuine, albeit unlikely, friendship. For all its vulgar language and bloodshed, 48 Hrs. is a genuine buddy movie in the best sense of the term.

48 Hrs. “Paramount Presents” Blu-ray

Aspect Ratio1.85:1
  • English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround
  • German Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
  • Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish, German, French, Japanese
  • Isolated music track
  • “Filmmaker Focus: Director Walter Hill on 48 Hrs.” featurette
  • Theatrical trailer
  • DistributorJuly 6, 2021
    Release DateParamount Home Entertainment

    48 Hrs. has been released on Blu-ray before, but the new “Paramount Presents” edition boasts a newly remastered image sourced from a new 4K film transfer that looks fantastic. As with other films in the “Paramount Presents” line, there has been a clear effort to keep the film’s original look, which means a strong filmlike presentation that is fairly heavy with grain, but also strong in detail and contrast. The cinematography by genre specialist Ric Waite (Red Dawn, Cobra) is solid and effective, giving us a wide range of palettes, from the dusty opening escape sequence, to rain-soakd, neon-lit urban exteriors. The transfer overall looks great. The same can be said for the Dolby TrueHD 5.1-channel surround, which highlights James Horner’s influential musical score (which is also available on an isolated two-channel Dolby track) and finds a strong balance between dialogue and action effects. The surround channels are plenty busy during the action sequence, and there is a good low end when it’s needed. In terms of supplements, all we get is a trailer and a new 19-minute interview with director Walter Hill, who reminisces about the film’s production and its impact.

    Copyright © 2021 James Kendrick

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    Overall Rating: (3)

    James Kendrick

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