80's Thriller Throwback: Next of Kin
Directed by: John Irvin
Here's another in a long line of 80's action/thrillers I never got around to, and as I hit my local thriftshop for VHS tapes, I'm finding more and more that the ones I pick up are films like these. It's been a really fun ride digging through these forgotten little films that get little attention, and I'm discovering more and more that films like this end up being pretty great gems. Well, for me anyway. So let's dig in.
When the brother of a Chicago police officer is killed by the son of a mob boss, the officer decides to take the law into his own hands, and ends up with help from his large backwoods hillbilly family who come to the big city to help.
For starters, the cast kind of blew me away. Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt, Ben Stiller (?), Ted Levine, Adam Baldwin and Liam Neeson were not names I expected to see in this, yet that's what I love about this film that kept surprising me at every turn. And of course, there's Swayze just being great as a total badass. Incidentally he made this the same year he starred in the classic Road House, yet this one kind of just came and went with little attention. And that's really a shame, because it's actually quite good.
Directed by John Irvin following Raw Deal (1986) and Hamburger Hill (1987), Irvin does a fine job shooting this one with more style and substance than he displayed with the highly underwhelming Raw Deal just 3 years earlier. Here he definitely gives the film a more gritty atmosphere than he displayed before, and the urban city setting does an outstanding job complimenting that. On a visual level, Next of Kin really shines as an 80's action picture and that's something I had my doubts on going in. I'm relieved to learn that my fears were unfounded.
I think a lot of people will be surprised to learn that while the casting is kind of all over the place, the one that really shines here is Liam Neeson, playing a backwoods hillbilly. Neeson wasn't a well known name yet, and it would take Darkman the following year to shoot him into the big leagues, but here he's quite effective and literally steals every single scene he's in with his commanding presence. He's the skinniest I've ever seen him, yet he's still a physically imposing figure, and his hillbilly accept kind of surprised me at how well it turned out, considering he still hasn't been able to do a convincing American one to this day.
One of the biggest surprises for me was the Italian mob part of the story. I think had I known beforehand that it wasn't a film about hillbilly's that took place in the back county, but rather a film about the Italian mob in Chicago circa 1989, I would most certainly have been more eager to check it out much sooner. This just might teach me never to judge a film so harshly before I actually watch it. Live and learn.
All in all, there's a lot to like about Next of Kin that easily makes it an underrated classic. So much is done right that it's really hard not to enjoy this one. The action is is top notch, the cast and especially Swayze and Neeson give it their best while the gritty style and atmosphere only adds to the experience. I'm surprised this doesn't get more recognition. It's absolutely a hidden gem in the 80's Action/Thriller genre and if you never got around to seeing it like I did, do yourself a favor and get on it asap. I think you just might be surprised at how good it is.