Cinemalphabet: S is for Sharky’s Machine (1981)
30 years ago saw the release of a film so fantabulous, it would later so inspire an impressionable 13 year old girl from the ‘burbs to begin a love affair with gritty crime thrillers (and Burt Reynolds) that it eventually became one of her countless alter egos. More than just a film, Sharky’S Machine is a metaphor for blowing your critics out of the water. Burt Reynolds directed the hell out of this film at time when people were still speculating as to whether or not he could even act.
It goes without saying that Sharky’s Machine is one of my favorite Burt Reynolds’ films and definitely one of my favorite directed by him. In a nutshell: Sharky’s Machine is mess of folks who worked out a smelly basement and one by one got picked off by shotgun blasts and taut direction. Oh, ATL, you are one corrupt motherfucker and Tom Sharky’s not having it.
Like Die Hard, Sharky’s Machine is the kind of action film that gets under my skin. It is the rare combination of blazing performances, a satisfying adaptation of William Diehl’s pulpy masterpiece (and thankfully the film is judicious with its displays of gore and xxx sexuality), spectacular stunts (more on that in a second) and, of course, Reynolds’ rock steady direction. What I like most about Reynolds as a director is how straightforward he is. He frames what matters; no gimmicks. It’s not elegant, precious filmmaking like Malick or Egoyan, but it filmmaking that services the story far better than dainty shots of shoot outs and glasses of booze clinking in shadowy, underworld expensive crystal glasses.
(narrated by CHUCK NORRIS)
But perhaps Sharky’s Machine is most iconic for the work of master “fall guy” Dar Robinson, whose death-defying stunt fall from the Westin Peachtree Plaza hotel, which has largely come to define the film:
At 220 feet, Dar’s stunt from Atlanta’s Westin Peachtree Plaza hotel in Sharky’s Machine still holds up as the highest free-fall (no wires) stunt to ever be performed from a building for a commercially-released film. However, despite it being a record-setting fall, in the final edit they are clearly using a dummy (only the briefest moment of the beginning of it is used in the movie).
Just five years later Dar would miss his mark and DRIVE OVER A CLIFF to his death. Yikes.
Lots of filmmakers have riffed on Sharky’s Machine, but QT did it the best with Jackie Brown.