By Paul Willistein
Source: The Morning Call
“The Package” is not a neat little present, but rather one wrapped in a plain brown wrapper – and ticking.
What’s explosive about this thriller set in the glasnost era are the performances of Gene Hackman and Tommy Lee Jones. As the movie races to its conclusion, it discards plot like bumpers and fenders flying from a car in a chase scene. Preventing the movie from coming to a crashing halt are Hackman’s and Jones’ performances.
Inside “The Package,” you’ll find Hackman quietly strong and Jones edgy. There’s a surprise: a steadfast Joanna Cassidy.
“The Package” begins in East Berlin where a disarmament conference between the Soviet Union and the United States is shattered by a terrorist attack which occurs on Sgt. Johnny Gallagher’s (Hackman) watch. Reprimanded, he’s given a more menial assignment, delivering a “package” (military parlance for a court-martialed serviceman) back to the United States to serve time.
Hackman and the serviceman (Jones) arrive while the president of the United States and the secretary general of the Soviet Union are meeting just before Christmas in Chicago (where Enrico Fermi’s experiments in the late 1930s led to the nuclear age) to celebrate the Cold War’s end. But Gallagher is brutally beaten in an airport men’s room. His “package” is gone. Checking service records through his ex-wife (Cassidy), Gallagher finds that he delivered the wrong man. Who, then, was the soldier he brought back to the States?
That’s when the twisted web of this political thriller unravels, with an ending worthy of “No Way Out,” another Orion Pictures release in which Hackman starred. “The Package” keeps you guessing, not unlike the Michael Caine starrer, “The Fourth Protocol” (also an Orion release; this studio is almost single-handedly preserving the political thriller genre). Not since “The Manchurian Candidate” has a movie provided so many chilling moments.
“The Package” does get bogged down by plot. A political thriller is nothing if not a well-oiled machine when it comes to plot – the more complex the better. But the plot must be internalized in the psyches of its main characters. Director Andrew Davis (“Above the Law,” “Code of Silence”) doesn’t show us enough of the interior life of Hackman and Cassidy, nor of Jones, for that matter.
Hackman, who’s played Lex Luthor, Superman’s nutty arch fiend, has Superman strength and determination in his heroic efforts in the movie’s latter third. It’s a credit to Hackman’s abilities that he makes it believable. Jones (“Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Stormy Monday,” TV’s “Lonesome Dove”) again plays a hateful character who you’ll find oddly appealing. Cassidy (“Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “Blade Runner,” “Under Fire”) has a smallish role but elevates it handsomely (and she looks great in a uniform). There’s also John Heard (“Betrayed”) as the tight-lipped colonel, and Dennis Franz (Lt. Buntz of TV’s “Hill Street Blues”) as a likeable Chicago policeman.
“The Package” is slick and shiny. It will appeal to fans of Hackman, Jones and Cassidy, as well as those who enjoy political thrillers.