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John Chard - Review
When you pull a gun, you've gotta be ready to kill somebody, and I'm telling you it's better to run.
Hickey & Boggs is directed by Robert Culp and written by Walter Hill. It stars Culp, Bill Cosby, James Woods, Ta-Ronce, Carmencristina Moreno, Rosalind Cash, Lou Frizzel, Isabel Sanford and Sheila Sullivan. Music is by Ted Ashford and cinematography by Bill Butler.
Al Hickey (Cosby) & Frank Boggs (Culp) are two jaded private investigators who get hired to find a missing woman and quickly find themselves submerged in a world of murder and untruths.
I don't think the title does it any favours, because in no way does it imply what a bleak and potent neo-noir that this is. In many ways Hickey & Boggs is the anti private investigator film, it portrays two men failing in life who are just about clinging to the last vestiges of their work, that of the private dick. Robert Culp and Walter Hill strip everything back to unglamourous terms, there is nothing remotely sexy or invigorating about this detective agency, Al and Frank do it because it's all they have, all they know in fact.
The film makers push the two men through a grimy and fetid Los Angeles, pitching them in amongst an array of weirdos, killers, revolutionaries, sexual deviants and angry officials. There's actually a lot of bold colours on show, the two PI's themselves wearing bright lurid blue and green suits, but all the colour coding on show in the film is a front, a misdirection tactic, this Los Angeles is on the surface colourful and sunny into the bargain, but Hickey & Boggs firmly operates on a seedy and downbeat level, the urban milieu as far removed from a holiday brochure as you can get.
Al and Frank, bless their shabby souls, are damaged goods, incapable of the kind of human interaction that most take for granted. Even between themselves they have lost the will to interact outside of work orientated chatter. In fact chatter is a key issue in the film, or lack of as it turns out. There's some beautifully zippy dialogue throughout, real spiky barbs straight out of noirville, but the pic is at its best, away from the action scenes, in how periods of silence involving Al & Frank say so much. One will either rant or repeatedly ask a question, while the other stares off into space or nurse yet another alcoholic beverage to forget his pain. As a character study, this wades through the sludge and blood to show a clinically cynical hand.
Then there is the action scenes, excellently constructed by Culp. Two shoot-outs especially are high grade in quality, and extended they are as well. Aurally they are like a Panzer Division unloading its armoury, visually it's intentionally comic book as per bullets used, but excitement is guaranteed, while the finale, is played out on a beach that gives great carnage and then cuts like a knife to close the pic down in the most suitable of fashions. The screenplay is at times a little too aware of trying to be a convoluted nudge nudge wink wink to the halcyon days of film noir, with Walter Hill on his first writing assignment proving to be wet behind the ears, though the eagerness and respect of the style of film making is genuine in the extreme.
Three absolutes come out of viewing Hickey & Boggs nowadays. One, is that Culp the director, some minor pacing issues aside, really shouldn't have let the film's poor box office prevent him from directing further assignments. Two, is that Cosby shows here he was capable of great character based drama, his performance is simply terrific. Three? Hickey & Boggs is under seen, under valued and should be a requisite viewing for anyone interested in neo-noir. 9/10