Based on the debut script of the 27-year-old Paul Schrader, Sydney Pollack's autumnal thriller is an interesting, if uneven exploration of the writer's trademark themes of guilt, honor, and expiation. Reflecting the immersion of the Schrader brothers in Japanese culture, the film combines a rather sobering meditation on the nature of sacrifice with action sequences showcasing the skills of the immensely popular Ken Takakura. Robert Mitchum jettisons his air of jaded insouciance in playing the rueful WWII vet, one of the best roles of his later career. In his scenes with his former lover (Keiko Kishi) and his former opponent (Takakura), the film achieves a tone of austere regret rare in American movies. But, the attempt to create an atmosphere of looseness and spontaneity among the Americans give their scenes a fatal slackness, with strategy sessions so relaxed that it seems like wiping out an army of yakuza is simply a chore to be performed on the way to the first tee. Although Pollack's action choreography is often awkward, and many of his visual choices seem plodding and uninspired, his skill in handling actors is in evidence.
by Michael Costello review