The Soldier (1982) Blu-ray Review (originally published 2018)
KGB agents posing as terrorists steal enough plutonium to destroy half of the world’s oil supply and threaten to do so, unless the Israelis withdraw from the West Bank of Jordan. With the world on the brink of nuclear holocaust, The Soldier (Ken Wahl), who’s not part of the military, carries out his own unauthorized, illegal, and highly dangerous plan to preserve the delicate balance of power. (From Kino Lorber’s official synopsis)
Shortly after making his impact on the exploitation market with the vigilante fantasy The Exterminator (1980), writer/director James Glickenhaus was given the chance to broaden his horizons with a sort of grindhouse version of a James Bond flick called The Soldier (1982). He was granted a decent budget (for the time) and permitted to expand the story’s scope with a litany of globe-trotting locations, yet the emerging feature still matches the cartoonish and uncompromising grit of the rest of the Glickenhaus canon – including The Protector (1985, his dicey attempt at Americanizing Jackie Chan) and his arguable masterpiece, Shakedown (1988). The stage is set in The Soldier’s opening sequence, where the title character and his mercenary friends run an old lady over with a car, then mercilessly gundown the generic townspeople, who randomly produce firearms from their lunchboxes and baby buggies. It’s a joyfully mad scene that is never really explained and is taken 100% seriously (the best managed is an off-handed mention of the victim’s previous crimes). Oh, and it is outrageously violent. From here, the film rarely slows down, delivering minimum narrative explanations, even during the (usually corny) expositional scenes, which are wedged between endless DIY espionage demonstrations and some of the juiciest blood squibs this side of Sam Peckinpah.
Glickenhaus doesn’t much care for small details (the seams of practical effects and stunt replacement work are often laid bare), but he does have a great sense of tone. Despite fitting the narrative mould that would define Reagan-era Hollywood, The Soldier has the relentlessness and ambiguity of a horror film. In this case specifically, his work feels like an uncanny blend of Walter Hill’s more impressionistic tendencies (like the ones seen in The Driver, 1978) and Maniac (1980) director Bill Lustig’s effortless New York sleaze. Yet, the film is also utterly sincere and, one rowdy brawl in a country-western bar aside, it rarely acknowledges its obvious ridiculousness, which is actually quite charming – perhaps even refreshing, given the tongue-in-cheek qualities of the bulk of later ‘80s action movies. Speaking of, The Soldier is a considerable upgrade over The Exterminator’s ‘shoestring chic’ approach to action. Glickenhaus uses low angles, slow motion, simple camera movies to convey maximum impact, and edits sharply enough to maintain genuine suspense as the film ramps (no pun intended) into its climax.
The Soldier wasn’t a big theatrical hit, but it flourished on home video via its original Embassy Home Entertainment VHS. MGM later re-released it on tape via their Movie Time line, but never bothered putting it out on any digital format. Fans were forced to import DVDs from Europe, though they had to be careful to avoid censored versions (the R2 UK disc from Cinema Club was trimmed by almost two minutes). Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray marks the film’s HD debut and has been newly mastered from an uncut source. The resulting 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer has an occasionally rough image that represents the film’s gritty intent quite well. Glickenhaus and cinematographer Robert M. Baldwin utilize a lot of wide-angle lenses, which bring out a lot of fine detail, despite the often bright lighting schemes and sanitized sets/costumes. Grain is constant, but also consistent and finely ground (aside from some particularly grimy stock footage shots). Colors are clean and steady throughout the entire runtime.
This film is presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio and its original mono (2.0). The track is pretty simple, usually dialogue-driven, and often that dialogue is iffy due to the influences of locations (i.e. echoey walls, blustery outdoor spaces, et cetera). Still, everything is understandable, the action scenes have considerable punch, and none of the distortion seems to be a compression issue. The key aural component, however, is Tangerine Dream’s evocative, electro-prog music. This was the first full soundtrack of many that the band created during the ‘80s and it really helps to sell the almost eerie tone. Minus the benefit of stereo, the score isn’t as lush as it could be, but its dynamic range is still impressive.
Commentary with writer/director James Glickenhaus – Glickenhaus gets right into spewing behind-the-scenes factoids with zero introduction, including tales of harry security situations while filming in the Middle East and Europe, technical challenges, and the basic production. His energy level is a bit low and he leaves some silent spaces, but the information is still solid.
Commentary with film historian Jim Hemphill – The American Cinematographer critic and director of Bad Reputation (2005) discusses Glickenhaus’ career, his contemporaries, the other work of various cast & crew members, and the making-of The Soldier.
Trailer and trailers for other Kino Lorber releases.