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Burt Reynolds in a serious cop drama/thriller à la "Dirty Harry"

Author: Wuchak from Ohio/PA border
22 June 2015

Released in 1981, "Sharky's Machine" stars Burt Reynolds as Sgt. Tom Sharky, an Atlanta cop who's demoted to the lowly vice division. Assigned to check out a high society prostitution ring, Sharky stumbles across a mob murder with governmental ties. He corrals his underdog vice team – the so-called Sharky's machine – to investigate and take down the guilty, whether mobsters or politicians. Rachel Ward plays the high-priced prostitute who fascinates Sharky, while Brian Keith and Bernie Casey play Sharky's partners, amongst others. Vittorio Gassman is on hand as the 'Godfather'-type heavy.

The story, as reported, is that Burt Reynolds was friends with Clint Eastwood in the late 70s and Burt suggested that he would do a Dirty Harry-type movie if Clint did a comedy, like Burt's numerous good ol' boy flicks. So Clint did the two "Every/Any Which Way" movies (1978 and 1980) and Burt eventually did "Sharky's Machine," which he described as "Dirty Harry in Atlanta." While Burt certainly rivaled Clint as the best masculine actor of the mid-60s through the 80s (although I give Clint the edge), all five of the Dirty Harry pictures are better than "Sharky's Machine," even the heavily maligned "The Dead Pool" (1988), not to mention other Eastwood cop thrillers, like the excellent "The Gauntlet" (1977) and arguably "Tightrope" (1984).

So what's wrong with "Sharky's Machine" (SM)? The first two times I tried to view it years ago I couldn't get past the 50-minute mark. How come? While SM has a decent action-filled start it doesn't outdo the beginnings of all or most of the Dirty Harry flicks (DH). Worse, soon after the first act, SM bogs down in a seemingly never-ending stakeout, which is mostly dull, although there are a couple of good dialogue sequences, like the old guy (Charles Durning) recounting killing a teen German during WWII. While SM gets better it never fully recovers from this long drag. All the DH films by comparison are entertaining from beginning to end, even their 'downtime' sequences. Furthermore, the way one of the two SM villains (Henry Silva) is scripted is sometimes eye-rolling, like the way he's always skulking nearby (e.g. the run-over-the-cop scene and the black criminal episode). If he's as addicted to drugs as the story suggests, how's he always at the proverbial right place at the right time? Then there are the cartoonish Asian martial artists that seem to come from an entirely different set. I'm not saying the DH flicks or "Gauntlet" didn't have cartoony elements, but they always pulled 'em off in an entertaining way. In SM they're just dumb.

Still, the cast of SM is great, particularly Sharky's has-been partners, and it's great seeing Burt in a serious flick. He's always entertaining. I would've liked to have seen a SM series (like DH) because I think the sequels would've improved upon the solid foundation with a better story.

The film runs 122 minutes and was shot entirely in Atlanta.


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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Burt's Best!!!

Author: zardoz-13 from United States
18 June 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Dirty Harry goes to Atlanta is what Burt called this fantastic, first-rate detective thriller that borrows some of its plot from the venerable Dana Andrews movie "Laura." Not only does Burt Reynolds star in this superb saga but he also helmed it and he doesn't make a single mistake either staging the action or with his casting of characters. Not a bad performance in the movie and Reynolds does an outstanding job of directing it. Henry Silva is truly icy as a hit-man.

Detective Tom Sharky (Burt Reynolds) is on a narcotics case in underground Atlanta when everything goes wrong. He winds up chasing a suspect and shooting it out with the gunman on a bus. During the melee, an innocent bystander dies. John Woo's "The Killer" replicates this scene. Anyway, the Atlanta Police Department busts Burt down to Vice and he takes orders from a new boss, Frisco (Charles Durning of "Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?") in the basement. Sharky winds up in a real cesspool of crime. Sharky and his fellow detectives Arch (Bernie Casey) and Papa (Brian Keith) set up surveillance on a high-priced call girl Dominoe (Rachel Ward of "After Dark, My Sweet")who has a luxurious apartment that she shares with another girl.

Dominoe is seeing a local politician Hotchkins (Earl Holliman of "Police Woman") on the side who is campaigning for governor but the chief villain, Victor (Vittorio Gassman of "The Dirty Game") wants him to end the affair. Hotchkins is reluctant to accommodate Victor, so Victor has cocaine snorting Billy Score (Henry Silva of "Wipeout")terminate Dominoe. Billy blasts a hole the size of a twelve inch pizza in the door of Dominoe's apartment and kills her.

Sharky has done the unthinkable. During the surveillance, he has grown fond of Dominoe to the point that he becomes hopelessly infatuated with her. Sharky's mission in life now is to bust Victor, but he learns that Victor has an informant inside the Atlanta Police Department. The plot really heats up when Sharky discovers later that Billy shot the wrong girl and that Dominoe is still alive! Sharky takes her into protective custody and things grow even more complicated. He assembles his "Machine" of the title to deal with Victor and his hoods.

William Fraker's widescreen lensing of the action is immaculate. Unfortunately, this vastly underrated classic is available only as a full-frame film. Fraker definitely contributes to the atmosphere of the picture, especially during the mutilation scene on the boat when the villain's cut off one of Sharky's fingers. This is a rather gruesome scene.

Burt never made a movie that surpassed "Sharky's Machine."

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

One of my favourite films!

Author: viktor99 from Australia
18 September 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I'm a fan of B grade 80s films in which the hero is a bit of a bad guy, a strong male, who finds love - and this film delivers!

Towards the finish you do not know how Sharky will not be killed (and doesn't he take a beating! Realistically portrayed I believe). However he does and it's not via some overdone 'Die Hard' stunt. The 'past it' team he works with comes together, hence the title. His team are all characters - people on the sideline at work because they don't quite conform. These portrayals are funny and sympathetic - they have a real feeling to them. They're up against an iceman of an assassin, with a good team of his own. The result is a great film noir.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

"Dirty Harry goes to Atlanta"

Author: Michael J Manfredi ( from waterbury, CT
6 March 1999

Reynolds is depicted in this film as Dirty Harry in what has became one of my personal favorite movies of alltime. Although the story is a bit slow moving and sudsy momentarily, at the same time it is eerie and increasingly intense. Burt as the title roll and as directer picks up the dull pace and heats up the screen in one suspense scene after another. I recommend this film to anyone who's a buff of the action genre. I myself actually inherited the nickname "SHARKY" a short time after the movie was released! Has nothing to do with the film but just by coincidence.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Burt Reynolds' best movie.

Author: spence-14
28 February 1999

While he was great in Boogie Nights, I think that this was Burt Reynolds' best performance. He's also a great director and has made a tough, violent movie that doesn't hold back (a hooker's death by 12 gauge) and is an excellent detective story with some great actors (Brian Keith, Bernie Casey, etc.) and an outstanding jazz soundtrack. 10 out of 10

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Dark and violent

Author: Fred Anderson from Sweden
12 January 1999

I would say this is Burt´s greatest film...It´s dark and violent and with a superb cast. A bit slow sometimes, but it´s worth a look.

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Burt and his binoculars.

Author: K-e-r-m-o-d-e from United Kingdom
5 April 2010

Burt Reynold's is tough cop Sharky. He likes sitting in skyscrapers and watching things through binoculars. So much so that the whole of this movie has Sharky sitting in a skyscraper watching things through his binoculars. Occasionally, he relieves himself by taking an urgent urination but soon it is binoculars time again. This is exciting! Later in the movie we get a glimpse of Burt sitting in a skyscraper watching things through his binoculars. Then, in an unexpected burst of action, he decides to watch things through his binoculars. The highlight of the movie is undoubtedly the ending scene where he watches things through his binoculars while in a skyscraper. A few less scenes of Burt watching things through his binoculars would have moved things along a little faster but, on the whole, not bad.

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3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Minor classic - top notch noir thriller

Author: dust-7
30 August 2000

*** This review may contain spoilers ***


One of Reynolds' best, up there with Deliverance (easy to forget this guy gave the world some good films, and some good performances). One of my favorites. And Reynolds directed, as well - heck of a job! It's a tale of dueling 'machines', with a few more good guys left standing, at the end, than bad guys (Sharkey claims 4 in his group, at one point - but it's more). It starts: Sharkey, the cop, gets demoted to - yes - the basement, and the vice division, along with the other 'losers'. They pick up a self-sure hooker at Holliman's rally. But when they get her back to the crowded basement lock-up, she overreacts when accidentally mentioning, in a bitter little screed, the $1000 a night "thoroughbred" of a pimp just being released from custody - and thus begins the grisly tale.

It's a great supporting cast. That's a good deal of the movie, right there. Bernie Casey - "Better get some WINGS!" Earl Holliman as a heavy, a crooked politico on Gassman's 'payroll'. Rat packer Henry Silva, quintessential psycho heavy from back in the 1950s. Brian Keith. Gassman. Durning as part of the 'Reynolds stable', perhaps (pretty much the comic relief, really). Rachel Ward, in one of her most memorable roles. Need one go on? Great cast - maybe THE best Reynolds ever worked with. You can't do a film, like this, without a cast like this. It makes all the difference.

It's been said that Clint Eastwood remarked that while he was making his 'monkey movies' (which aren't so bad on second viewing, perhaps - years later), he saw Reynolds was making an 'Eastwood' movie. You had the cool jazz/RnB opening - just great music; can't hear Street Life, now, without flashing on the opening scene from the chopper down to the train tracks. You had the violence, the raised volume on the gunshots (like Spielberg with Drew's scream in the early video releases of ET). Rachel prob. wasn't quite as edgy, maybe a little rounder in more ways than one than say, a Sondra Locke. But you could see this film with Eastwood - with more of an edge, little less 'smirky', a little less soft and reflective even, beyond the level of personal lament, maybe.

But with the almost film noir/torch song jazz score, and Reynolds, in fact it's more a throwback to the hard detective pot boilers, at least in various scenes, than the fed-up near-assassin of Dirty Harry. It reads, at times, like one of those old crime novels. The early running through the tapes - who does that sound like to you? - views like something some novelists would have written; like a play translated to the big screen. And, throughout, you almost get the sense a few chapters have been dropped, for sake of screen time, as well. You get the same sense of a novel as they peep Rachel from across the street, and Bernie runs on about zen - an anticipation of the bad guy, as we see in the climax of the movie, it turns out. You just 'pull your antenna in'. It's 'metaphysical'.

The killer, the hired 'muscle', of course, is essential. A weak heavy makes for a weak film. And the brother, the dead-eyed Silva is, again, almost the stereotypically believable heavy. He looks utterly - evil, crazy and diabolical, and far too good at what he does; consider his breakdown and murderous reaction to the dismissal by the brother Gassman, before the climax, the insanity of it all, the desperation it suggests for the final scene. Smiley, as the weasel, is believable as that. He's dangerous, and annoying as heck. It's difficult to know why he was in the garage in the opening scene, which ultimately triggered Sharkey's demotion. But that's the chapter that got lost, again, maybe. The 'kung fu' guys, admittedly, do seem a little weak. They hit, and they bounce, and they kick and bump. And nobody goes down until just the last. But it's a minor complaint.

Rachel is little stiff, at times. But we might believe that as part of maintaining her delusions, as borne of money; little rich girl with expensive collectables, a woman of refined 'taste and breeding', it would seem on the surface. And the character likes to hear herself talk, basically. Domino thinks she's just great. And Ward turns in a fine performance. Again, with the noir music behind her crying into the mirror as the whore revealed for the moment, to the outburst and the famous screaming denial to Sharkey who only wants information. It's an interesting, and tragic, character. And she's part of the happy ending.

Overall, it's a good film, with great music, top flight actors turning in some good work. The editing is crisp. The bad team is really bad. The good guys are really in danger, and some don't survive, and some end up permanently maimed. The story moves along with one or two gaps from the book, you just sense. There's some cliche, particularly that the movie gave rise to (as did 48 Hours). The final shootout is a little forced - as in why weren't the stairs crawling with men in blue? But the gunfight between Silva and Casey is remarkable, at that, as is the final suicide an image that stays with you. That is, you can sort of believe the characters, and find yourself in the story. It's a good effort, that way. The only real moral, if there is one, is that for all the flaws of the good guys, Sharkey's tenacity, in various contexts and various scenes, pays off. The bad guys lose their lives or the wicked dreams they'd planned so carefully. And it wasn't even so much due to the machine, as to the one man - as we fade into some lounge jazz, with the neon lights outside the window (or something like that, instead of the playground swing).

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3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Overlooked modern noir

Author: Jim Kenney from New York
30 June 1999

An intense, dark action drama with unusually rich support from Casey, Keith, et. al, many of whom get the best roles of their careers and run with it. The film is oddly shaped -- often the action slows down just to let the characters get caught up in odd but well-done seemingly improved dialogues -- during the stakeouts, almost all of the "Machine" get caught up in perfectly delivered humorous monologues -- and Reynolds the director deserves mucho credit for having Reynolds the star step back and give them room. And unlike most action films, you really get to like the characters, which makes the 2nd half, when their various destinies good and bad unfold, unusually affecting. The combination of character development, brutal violence, a jazzy soundtrack (Tarantino must be a fan -- watch this & then "Jackie Brown" and you'll see what I'm talking about)make this occasionally flawed film (The bad guys are a bit melodramatic) one of the better modern cop films, and in my mind superior to many of the overrated modern noirs such as "Body Heat" & such.

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4 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

There's a great movie in here somewhere

Author: mickeyshamrock from United States
19 January 2010

I think the most important thing to keep in mind while watching SHARKY'S MACHINE is that Burt Reynolds directed it... that sunk in yet? OK good. I'm not knocking Reynolds' ability behind the camera, I actually think he does a commendable job (p.s. I'm a big Reynolds fan), I just always think it's important to note when an actor directs and stars in their own movie. Sure, it's dated and fairly rough around the edges, but there's a great movie in here that continually peeks through the cracks. Unfortunately it just never seems to peek through long enough to win over most viewers. However the movie features some good old fashioned cop stuff, some good old fashioned violence, and a great, good old fashioned bad guy (the lost art of the great bad guy) played by the always stellar Henry Silva. It also features an awesome stunt by stunt legend (whatever happened to stunt legends?) and Reynolds' STICK co-star, Dar Robinson. As usual, Reynolds is great in the title roll of Sharky - I've just always wondered if a more experienced director (perhaps John Frankenheimer) had helmed this film, and STICK for that matter, would that have elevated this film to action classic status? It's very possible...

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