RETRO MOVIE – Clint Eastwood’s “Firefox” is a professional, suspenseful spy thriller that combines classic Cold War espionage with sci-fi. The Firefox of the title is a top-secret Russian fighter plane that can fly at six times the speed of sound while remaining invisible to radar. Eastwood’s “Mission Impossible” mission, should he decide to accept it: infiltrate the Soviet Union disguised as a Las Vegas drug smuggler, then steal the Firefox and fly it west.
Made in the early 1980s, towards the end of the classic Cold War era, this spy film starred the then ageing legendary western and action movie star Clint Eastwood.
Back when Firefox wasn’t a browser…
The story of Firefox is actually a simple one: former pilot and CIA agent Mitchell Gant is asked to infiltrate the Soviet Union under a pseudonym and steal a Russian fighter plane called Firefox, which of course, has nothing to do with the then non-existent browser. To complicate matters, Eastwood is also a Vietnam veteran who sometimes hallucinates that he is still in combat and witnessing the death of a little girl. The film calls this what was then known as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). But the CIA man who recruits him explains that the government isn’t too worried because the syndrome doesn’t come on during combat, but only afterwards. Of course, this does not reassure Gant, who reluctantly accepts the mission.
Eastwood with moustache and glasses
In any case, Eastwood trains for the mission, disguises himself with a funny moustache and a pair of rather lame glasses and survives a few awkward moments at Moscow customs before entering Russia. Then he gets in touch with an alliance of spies and double agents who lead him to a Jewish dissident who is such a genius scientist that he can still work on Firefox. Why does the defector want to work on it? Because he knows how Eastwood can steal the computer.
Even if the fighting and shooting action is not on a par with the James Bond films (even those of the eighties), the realism is somewhat more than compensated for. Of course, the complications are only just beginning and, by classic spy thriller rules, Gant soon finds his life is in pretty serious danger after the Moscow KBG starts hunting him down. The fight sequences are stone-cold and Eastwood proves that even then, he still has some fight left in him after his western roles and the Dirty Harry films.
Top flying action sequences
The plane itself, of course, is none other than the “McGuffin”. The McGuffin, remember, is what Alfred Hitchcock called the element of the plot that everyone considers important. In this case, it’s the Firefox, a long, sleek, ferocious-looking machine that looks like a cross between a guided missile and a DeLorean. Eastwood and the camera lovingly circle around it; it’s the sexiest shot in a film without a romantic subplot. However, when Eastwood gets into the pilot’s seat of the Firefox (I guess that’s not too big a spoiler), from about the middle of the film, the movie suddenly shifts into fifth gear.
So the climax of the film is Eastwood’s attempt to fly this plane north to the Arctic Circle, refuel it there, and then take it home. The flight is intercut with somewhat comic scenes of the Russian High Command members arguing and bickering as they stare over a lighted map that casts an eerie glow on their faces, making them look like the arch-villains of a sixties comic book.
Amazing flying scenes
Will Eastwood make it out unscathed? Will he take the plane with him? In no way do I want to give away the plot. However, I will say that the film’s highlight is the nearly one hour (!) of sensational flight and escape after high-altitude aerial combat between two different Firefoxes. The way Eastwood sits in the cockpit of the Firefox, surrounded by video screens and computer displays showing flight patterns and missile trajectories, is like Dirty Harry has died and gone to Atari heaven.
Special mention should be made of the special effects, which are top-notch for the eighties. The planes looked surprisingly accurate even to today’s eyes, and the choreography of the aerial combat was realistic and understandable. There is a sensational chase scene that pays homage to Star Wars. Remember the scene in Star Wars when the two ships chased each other through the towering walls of the city in space? Eastwood and his Russian pursuer rocket through a crevasse between two ice rocks, and it looks great even when we realize it’s logically impossible. In fact, that could be said for the whole film.