Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Park is Mine (1986)

A Vietnam vet jumps off a hospital building to his death and his veteran buddy Mitch takes up his plan to take over Central Park with explosives and heavy ammunition. Mitch is played by Tommy Lee Jones, who we last saw in Rolling Thunder, another angry veteran movie that never seems to be available on DVD. In the mid 80s, American cinema developed a renewed interest in Vietnam and its veterans. The Park is Mine came out around the same time as Rambo and Platoon- The Park is Mine was made for cable television- showed up on VHS and has since vanished. It’s out of print on DVD and, thus, popular with bootleggers. Naturally, I was curious.

Mitch is more than a little bit like Travis Bickle in a very similar New York City scumscape to the one depicted in Taxi Driver. He can’t hold down a job, he owes his ex-wife Rachel (Gale Garnett) a fortune, and Rolling Thunder keeps going out of print; so he becomes un uomo d’azione, as the Italians say, wandering around the park in camouflage and face paint and blowing shit up. Soon, he has New York (apparently, the film was shot largely in Toronto though) at a standstill. You probably couldn’t remake the movie today because it would end in five minutes with Homeland Security torturing the main character to death.

Instead, the SWAT team (led by Yaphet Koto) comes in to the park and gets chased out of the park. The Mayor’s office, instead, claims that there’s a team of men holding the park, and admittedly the idea of one man taking over Central Park is a bit farfetched. Sexy reporter Valery (Helen Shaver) sneaks into the Park and makes friends with Mitch, who finally issues a statement explaining where he’s coming from: America has forgotten about its veterans, average men are all-but-invisible, sex is hard to come by and he “just wants to remind people they don’t have to take shit every day”; today, he’d be a blogger (or Sarah Palin’s running mate), but in 1986, he’s blowing shit up. How far we’ve fallen.

Naturally, Mitch becomes an inspiration to average Joes around the city who finally realize they can be someone important, if only they take a few really batshit crazy, suicidal actions. The city sends in commandos.

The Park is Mine is a fairly well-made 80s television drama with a nice central portrayal of urban alienation. I’m always a sucker for watching Tommy Lee Jones act insane and the film does a good job of sustaining a mood. The soundtrack, by Tangerine Dream, has that synth-heavy, slightly inhuman feeling characteristic of John Carpenter’s music (Carpenter was a big Tangerine Dream aficionado). It is a bit lightweight, especially since it’s main message about Vietnam veterans seems to be, “Hey, pay attention to them!” There's also the slight problem of it being completely unbelievable that a veteran could mine Central Park without anyone noticing, or that one man could hold the park against the NYPD. And genre fans should be warned that it has no gore and only very brief semi-nudity- although lots of shit gets blown up. I wouldn't buy a $15 copy from a bootlegger, but it’s worth a five dollar rental, if you can actually find a copy.

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