Hide in Plain Sight (1980)
User ReviewsReview this title
As a side note, I saw Caan discussing it in an interview a long time ago. He said the studio had no faith in the film, so they dumped it without much advertisement. And then they were shocked when it received great reviews. But by then, it was already dead. He also mentioned that the pan & scan version that was on TV changed a lot of wide-screen two shots into separate shots! I'm not sure if the same thing happened with the VHS, but I'll bet it did. Hopefully, a proper version will come out on DVD one of these days.
There's something inherently appealing about seeing this blue collar guy struggle to overcome the immense amount of red tape facing him. Caan is excellent in the lead; he's low key and convincing, and on those few occasions when the character gives in to anger, you can hardly blame him. The film also strongly benefits from its location shooting (it takes place in Buffalo, NY in 1967) and local atmosphere. Caans' storytelling is efficient and to the point. There's no filler here, with "Hide in Plain Sight" clocking in at a refreshingly succinct 92 minute run time. The widescreen photography is first rate.
The cast is stacked with familiar faces. Jill Eikenberry is immensely appealing as Alisa, the new lady in Thomas's life. The under-rated Joe Grifasi is likewise engaging as his good buddy Matty Stanek. And get a load of this assortment of supporting and character actors: Kenneth McMillan, Josef Sommer, Danny Aiello, David Clennon, Peter Maloney, David Margulies, Leonardo Cimino, Tom Signorelli, Charles Hallahan, Alice Drummond, and Beatrice Winde.
While watching this, one may rightly wish Caan had tried directing more often during his career. He clearly had a knack for it.
Eight out of 10.
The film does it's best to bring out the emotional pitch of the complex situation. In this, it largely succeeds. HIPS is not a glossy, gorgeous film, with memorable cinematography--it is strongly blue-collar and gritty in its general feel. But it is focused and stays on-target for what it is trying to do. That's more than you can say for a lot of movies.
I hadn't realized until now, that this flick was directed by Caan. This work does credit to his already great resume. He keeps a firm hand on the production and doesn't make any sophomoric mistakes. It is not a 'great' film but it is a good film --realistic--and doesn't disappoint.
By the way, it's hard to overlook the relevancy of a plot like this, with current events the way they are, in the U.S. today. This film is particularly poignant and resonant for those of us concerned about American civil liberties.
There is a great scene near the end where Caan makes his final stand against the government agencies he has fought throughout the film.
The film makes an interesting point. Thomas Hacklin, a factory worker, has divorced his wife, but they have remained in friendly terms. We watch as Tom comes, at the start of the movie, to baby sit his son and daughter. Clearly, Tom adores these children.
His divorced wife has remarried the small time hoodlum Jack Solese. When this man runs into problems with the law, he is offered a release and witness protection in exchange for his cooperation in getting the principal mobsters in jail. When he complies and points the finger to the responsible guys, Jack and his family are relocated to Michigan. Tom, on the other hand, is not notified about the where abouts. Thus begins his quest for his own children.
James Caan, makes a good impression as the working class father. Jill Eikenberry plays Alisa, the woman who has settled in the area and loves Tom. The supporting cast is good. Robert Viharo, Joe Grifasi, Barbra Rae, Kenneth McMillan, Josef Sommer and Danny Aiello work well under Mr. Caan's direction.
This is a curiosity because it's the only film directed by Mr. Caan.
As Tom Hacklin, Caan is your average, middle-class, blue-collar factory worker. No, he isn't an Archie Bunker type. If Hacklin has any opinions, he keeps them to himself, and Caan doesn't portray him as a dummy either. Although Hacklin is divorced (a point that Spencer Eastman's script avoids), he is shown as an individual that treats his children, a boy and a girl, with unbridled love and affection. The action begins one day in 1967 when Hacklin learns that his ex-wife Ruthie (TV actress Barbra Rae) and his pre-school kids have vanished without a trace. Hacklin's wife had been involved with a small-fry Mafioso Jack Scolese (Robert Viharo of "Villa Rides"). Scolese staged a bank robbery and pistol whipped a bank cashier. On orders from the mob, Scolese not only marries Ruthie, but he also turns himself into the authorities.
Meanwhile, a U.S. government strike force in Buffalo out to clean up crime convinces Scolese that his mob set him up. Federal authorities persuade him to inform on his former gang bosses; it seems that the government has a Witness Relocation Program. The program calls for a complete change of identity for the informer and his family as well as a new town to settle in with a worthwhile job. Scolese decides to inform. Hacklin sets out to find his kids. He is frustrated at every turn by uncooperative cops and lilied-livered politicos. The police have to stop him from finding Scolese as much as the mob wants him to find a rat that needs killing. Either way Hacklin could care less, he just wants his kids back.
"Hide In Plain Sight" is a brooding, low-key movie that shuns the extroverted emotionalism of "Kramer Vs. Kramer," another film about a father that wants his child back. Spencer Eastman's screenplay is a fine, literate effort that details the obstacles that Hacklin must overcome to find his children. Occasionally, the script has lapses; Hacklin is shown in a highly favorable light, but why was he divorced? You get the feeling that his wife was to blame, but how did she get custody of the kids? Most of all, however, the script is credible, especially in dealing with Hacklin's frustrations. After the court hearing, which Hacklin loses to the government, he smashes the government attorney's slick, sporty Corvette. The revenge her is so pathetic that it is real and believable.
James Caan makes his directional debut with "Hide In Plain Sight." Although he isn't as innovative as Clint Eastwood, he is at best competent and unpretentious. Caan doesn't let anything or anybody, least of all himself, get in the way of the story that he has to tell. The performances by the cast are nicely etched characterizations of real people. There are no bloodbaths or careening auto chases here. "Hide In Plain Sight" is a responsible, evenly paced film. Director James Caan has taken great pains to recreate the setting and the story. He has also done an admirable job in skillfully underplaying the role of Thomas Hacklin. Presumably, Caan both admired and sympathized with Hacklin and the guy's plight for he has made one of the more notable films of the 1980 cinema season. If you aren't accustomed to movie-going because you deplore the excesses of sex and violence on the big-screen, "Hide In Plain Sight" may be just what you're searching for in good entertainment.
Clearly, there's a subtext to the storyline. Set in 1967, the narrative generally shows how uncaring Feds are about an average working guy's rights. Much of the proceedings are taken up with Tom being brushed off by ascending levels of government even up to his congressman. For Tom, it's ironic that the establishment he supports as an anti-hippie blue-collar conservative would treat him so cavalierly. In a sense, the movie suggests reasons for working class guys to despise government as much as do the anti-war hippies of the time. In effect, the governing agencies come across as basically uncaring about the broader consequences of their acts, seemingly either in Vietnam or Buffalo, NY. That's why Tom angrily identifies himself to a Fed as "Nobody" at movie's end. He's had an odd learning experience, but a learning experience it is. Perhaps I exaggerate some, but the subtextual core is definitely present in this adaptation of a real life event.
Anyway, Caan delivers an ace performance as Tom. Note how his lines are delivered in rather groping and not very articulate fashion, befitting a guy more skilled with his hands than his tongue. Thus, Caan manages a convincing role without special pleading. The rest of the rather large cast also performs ably, especially rotund McMillan as a street-wise cop and Viharo as the callous stoolie. But, as much as I wanted to hug her, I'm afraid Eikenberry is a shade too sweet and understanding as Tom's new girl friend.
On the whole, the movie comes across as very skillfully done, with a thought provoking storyline, and results that are generally underrated. So don't pass it up.
My only criticism is the casting of Danny Aiello as the great lawyer who's going to help him out and waive his fee. As the owner of Sal's Pizzeria in "Do the Right Thing," he's believable. As a wealthy, high-end lawyer, he's not.
This film shows you the inhumanity of the government in consideration of Caan's request. They will either ignore him or thwart any attempt of his to make contact with his children.
Caan plays the desperate father quite well.
Caan does double duty as the film's star, and he is perfectly adequate to the task, in a role he's play many times before and since. The rest of the cast is so one dimensional that it's really hard to care about the characters. That again has to be attributed to Caan, as many of these actors are top notch (Danny Aiello, Joe Grifasi, Ken McMillan, Josef Sommer).
It's too bad. This is a good story that deserved to be told in a more compelling manner.