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STUDIO: Shout! Factory
RUNNING TIME: 192 minutes
• TV spots and trailers.
• Audio commentary on Off Limits by Willem Dafoe and Christopher Crowe.
• Audio commentary on Gordon’s War by actor Tony King and cinematographer Victor J. Kemper.
Gordon’s War: A decorated Vietnam soldier returns home to Harlem to find the streets littered with drug dealers and junkies. He assembles a crew of fellow GIs and together they ignite their own war on drugs!
Off Limits: Two military police officers are stationed in Saigon and investigating a serial killer. Their hunt leads them into the upper tiers of military command – a deadly place to be sniffing around for a murderer.
Gordon’s War: Directed by Ossie Davis, written by Howard Friedlander and Ed Spielman, starring Paul Winfield, Carl Lee, and David Downing.
Off Limits: Directed by Christopher Crowe, written by Crowe and Jack Thibeau, starring Willem Dafoe, Gregory Hines, and Fred Ward.
Two utterly different but remarkable Namsploitation films get a great, affordable release by Shout! Factory!
Thank the gods for the folks at Shout Factory for these economically packaged double features of marginally obscure flicks. To hell with those crummy double/triple feature sets they peddle at Target and Wal-Mart – the ones that package together a pair of flops they probably show on cable every night. Leave it to Shout Factory to release the juicy stuff. This particular billed as an “Action-Packed Double Feature”, pairs together a bombastic blaxploitation tale of street justice, Gordon’s War (1973), and a cold as hell film about a Saigon serial killer, Off Limits (1988). Both are fantastic films and well worth the meager price of the DVD set.
Commonly in revenge/vigilante films, there’s a period of moral searching the anti-hero goes through before taking action. Paul Kersey doesn’t strike back until halfway through Death Wish. Eddie Marino takes a lot of coaxing to get revenge in Vigilante. The anti-hero in Gordon’s War takes about two minutes before he starts pulling pimps out of Cadillacs and breaking their legs. Maybe it’s because his combat mode was never cooled off after returning home from Nam. Maybe he’s just got a shorter fuse than other cinematic vigilantes. Either way, from the jump off, Gordon’s War is a fucking rocket of revenge tearing through Harlem.
Paul Winfield play Gordon, a Green Beret coming home to a city he doesn’t recognize anymore. His wife died of an overdose while he was overseas and the streets are lousy with smack, pimps, and pushers. Wasting no time, he puts together a gang of fellow black veterans to take back the streets. They station themselves in an abandoned building and formulate a crack battle plan – targeting the dealers, the dosers, and finally the distributors. Gordon’s troops, played by Carl Lee, David Downing, and Tony King, are a bunch of authentic no-bullshit badasses. Gordon’s the scariest of them all. His unflinching stare would be enough to take down an entire building on my block. This was Winfield’s follow up role after Sounder, in which he played a struggling sharecropper. The man has some serious range.
Directed by actor Ossie Davis, who will always be Da Mayor to me, crafts violence really really boldly. People are shown beaten and shot, but a good portion of it is implied as well. They shot on location in Harlem and back then the city looked like a warzone. Crumbled buildings. Piles of bricks and garbage. Davis uses all of this to the film’s grim advantage for authenticity, but also to shine a light on the poverty afflicting African Americans. Not to mention that the drug distributors happen to be bloated white businessmen stuffed in suits. Released during the height of the blaxsploitation craze in Hollywood, Gordon’s War has criminally faded into obscurity until now.
Off Limits is set in another kind of warzone – the one Gordon returned home from: Saigon during the Vietnam War. Willem Dafoe and Gregory Hines play plainclothes military police stationed in Saigon. Their investigation into the brutal murder of a prostitute throws them into a hunt for a serial killer. Someone is murdering prostitutes who are also mothers. Dafoe and Hines begin to suspect that the killer is a high-ranking American officer. They quickly figure out that a cover-up is happening as witnesses are killed and attempts are made on their own lives. Their colonel (Fred Ward) does his best to keep them out of trouble with the Vietnamese MPs and a beautiful nun (Amanda Pays) helps them link together some clues.
What begins as a straightforward police procedural spirals into a perverted conspiracy with no chance for a happy ending. And why should a movie like this have a happy ending? Its themes and subject matter are as grim as they come (a serial killer and the Vietnam War, jeezus!) so any derailing of cynicism would feel forced and pretty cheap. These two Americans wind up balls deep in the sleazy underworld of Saigon – a literal heart of darkness. Any glimmer of hope falls flat on its face – deservedly so.
It’s impossible for Dafoe to suck. I think it’s mentioned in the Bible somewhere. He brings the heat as usual, but Mr. Gregory Hines steals every scene. His role as Sergeant First Class Albaby Perkins is a gigantic departure from tap-dancing and laying down duets with Luther Vandross. Perkins is a foul-mouthed hard-ass who walks towards gunfire at one point in the film while repeating “You trying to kill me?” It’s easily the most badass moment of one mean little film; filled with fatalistic bravado and cynicism.
Director Christopher Crowe is best known for his TV writing for crime shows like BJ and the Bear and it’s a shame he wasn’t involved with more features. It might be predictable, but Off Limits stands out for its commitment to grim storytelling.
Released on a single disc, this double feature from Shout Factory is well worth the price. Especially for fans of blaxploitation and gritty 70s flicks.
Both films are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is good and the 2.0 levels and mix for both films are decent.
GORDON’S WAR AUDIO COMMENTARY: Nothing too interesting here. Actor Tony King goes into how he got into acting after football and offers some insight on the making of the film. Cinematographer Victor J. Kemper talks about how making the film opened his eyes on the dire situation up in Harlem.
OFF LIMITS AUDIO COMMENTARY: Dafoe doesn’t have much to say on the track, unfortunately, but Crowe provides some detailed production trivia.
Rating: Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Out of a Possible 5 Stars