Sharky's Machine [1981]

Burt Reynolds was getting restless with the good ol' boy screen image he cultivated in Smokey & the Bandit and numerous car-chase flicks of the mid-to-late 1970s, and this brutal 1981 thriller presented the actor with an interesting change of pace. Reynolds directed the film as well, and there was a lot at stake for him both personally and professionally, so Sharky's Machine--based on a gutsy novel by William Diehl--has an urgent, no-nonsense quality that lifts it above most comparably sleazy thrillers. The plot may be sordid, but Reynolds's handling of it is not. This adds another element of freshness to the story of a demoted Atlanta vice cop (Reynolds) who pursues a personal vendetta against a crime boss (Vittorio Gassman) after falling in love with a stunning beauty (Rachel Ward) from the mobster's stable of high-priced prostitutes. The climactic shootout is violent and bloody in keeping with movies of the period (when jarring brutality was beginning to be commonplace in Hollywood films), but Reynolds doesn't go overboard. Sharky's Machine doesn't pretend to be anything more (or less) than a tough-as-nails crime movie, and it's one of Reynolds's most unusual and intelligent films. --Jeff Shannon

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