Since I was still in the mood for watching films from the 1990s, I thought that I’d review an action/crime/thriller/disaster movie from 1998 called “Hard Rain”.
I have vague memories of watching this film on VHS (I can’t remember if it was a rental, ex-rental or recorded off of the telly) when I was about thirteen or fourteen, but I couldn’t remember that much about it. So, after finding a cheap second-hand DVD of it, I thought that it was worth rewatching.
Note: In the time between preparing and posting this review, there has been a fairly recent scandal about one of the film’s main cast members.
After some thought about what to do with this review, I’ve decided to remove any references to celebrities (in general) and to focus only on the film’s story, pacing, writing/scripting, special effects, lighting etc… This slight change in focus will not affect the film’s review score.
This seemed to be a good balance between current sensibilities regarding these types of scandals and the principle that creative works should be primarily judged on their own merits (eg: judgments about a creative work should be made separately from judgments about those involved in making it).
So, that said, let’s take a look at “Hard Rain”. I’ll try to avoid major spoilers in this review. But, the original trailer for this film spoils one of the film’s main twists (so, don’t watch the trailer before you see the film).
“Hard Rain” is set in the small American town of Huntingburg, Indiana and it begins with two security guards called Tom and Charlie who are collecting money from banks in their armoured truck during the early parts of a gigantic rainstorm.
After a while, their truck gets stranded in the middle of a flooded road. So, they radio headquarters and are told that the national guard will arrive in a few hours. Then, a while later, a car shows up.
However, the car belongs to a group of criminals (led by a man called Jim) who are after the money in the truck! After a short gun fight, Charlie is shot and Tom flees with the money, in the hope of hiding it somewhere until the authorities arrive. Needless to say, the criminals quickly give chase….
Soon, the local police and one or two of the townspeople also end up getting drawn into these events too. But, with the floodwaters rising and the town’s dam in a precarious state, who will survive and what will happen to the money?…
One of the first things that I will say about “Hard Rain” is that it’s an even better film than I remembered. Like with “Broken Arrow“, it’s just fun to watch. The film is a wild rollercoaster of suspense, plot twists, humour and action that reminded me again of how much fun action/thriller films made after the end of the Cold War and before 9/11 were.
As I’ve mentioned many times before, the people writing action and thriller movies during the 1990s couldn’t just rely on current events for story ideas – so, action/thriller films from that decade often tend to be a bit more imaginative and often also have a somewhat lighter emotional tone too. In other words, they’re more “fun” than “serious” and they tend to have a bit more uniqueness and personality.
Plus, unlike many action movies, “Hard Rain” isn’t some grand drama about saving the world or anything like that. Virtually all of the events in the film take place within a single flooded town and, surprisingly, this focus on smaller-scale events really helps to add a lot of extra drama and suspense to the film.
This is also helped by the fact that this film has a reassuringly lean running time of about 93 minutes (seriously, I miss the days when films had editors).
But, although the film has a sensible running time, there are still a few points where the narrative feels a little bit unfocused as it jumps between events happening in different parts of the town. This isn’t a major issue, since these scenes are all extremely compelling, but the pacing doesn’t feel as thrilling as usual during a few brief parts of the film. Even so, most of the film is a lean, focused action thriller that is absolutely crammed with suspense.
Seriously, this film’s suspense elements are absolutely brilliant! Not only are all of the characters constantly threatened by the rising flood waters (and other environmental hazards), but this film also contains a few surprising plot twists that help to add to the suspenseful atmosphere too.
There’s also a surprising amount of humour in this film that really helps to complement the thrilling suspense and fast-paced action. Interestingly though, most of this humour is “cynical old man” humour – which still works surprisingly well.
However, as the film progresses, the amount of humour drops slightly as the narrative focuses more on drama and suspense, even including a couple of genuinely creepy moments (eg: when one of the townspeople is menaced by an extremely creepy guy).
But, for the most part, the emotional tone of this film never strays too far towards “grim”, “disturbing” or “depressing”, and the film’s overall emotional tone can best be described as “suspenseful” and “fun”.
Although this film is surprisingly timeless, it also contains at least a small amount of 1990s nostalgia too – such as CRT computer monitors in some scenes and a scene involving an audio cassette.
The characters in this film have realistic motivations and, occasionally, some degree of moral ambiguity. Both the heroic and villainous characters (and everyone in between) come across as being actual characters, rather than just stock characters or anything like that. Although the film is still a gloriously silly action movie and doesn’t contain any seriously deep characterisation, the characterisation that is there works really well.
Virtually all of the special effects in this film (except for some obviously CGI/super-imposed fire effects in one scene) are really good too.
Unfortunately, the DVD I bought didn’t have a “making of” feature, but I’d be really interested to see how the makers of the film managed to create an entire flooded town. Seriously, pretty much all of the effects in this film not only stand the test of time but still look fairly impressive in a “how the hell did they do that?” kind of way.
Likewise, the lighting in this film is absolutely superb! As I’ve said so many times before, people certainly knew how to use lighting well during the 1990s and this film is no exception!
As well as lots of awesome gloomy lighting and/or high-contrast lighting, one interesting thing in this film is that the lighting will often have an orange/blue colour scheme. This is one of the most visually-appealing colour combinations and, although it is over-used by Hollywood these days, it’s kept fairly subtle in this film.
In addition to this, the film’s music is also fairly good too. The stand-out piece of music in the film is probably the dramatic (and thoroughly “cinematic”) tune that accompanies the opening credits. But there are also a couple of good musical moments in other parts of the film too.
All in all, this is a really fun and suspenseful film. I’m not sure whether I prefer it to “Broken Arrow” or not, but it’s another stellar example of how great the action/thriller genre could be during the 1990s. It contains some really cool lighting, special effects and action sequences. Plus, the characters, humour and emotional tone of the film are really great too.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five. They don’t make films like this these days!