Review of Hawks
Filmed on location at London's Charing Cross Hospital and in the Netherlands, Hawks is the most overlooked and underrated movie in Timothy Dalton's career.
A British production, funded on the strength of Dalton's success with the James Bond franchise, Hawks was based on an idea by Barry Gibb, who also composed and performed the melodic and effective score. Co-starring Anthony Edwards (of "E.R."), Hawks presented the stars with the ultimate acting challenge: how to portray the subject of untimely death, coupled with it's inevitable pain, suffering and fear with both humour and pathos.
Timothy Dalton's complex portrayal of Bancroft blends the actor's flair for physical humour, with his ability to convey innate fear while delivering lines ostensibly meaning the opposite. He infuses his own indomitable spirit into the character, intensifying Bancroft's fate to grow into an abiding concern which carries the movie. Dalton's Bancroft is a "dead realist," chronicling the end-stage disease processes on the faces of playing cards; an escapist who slips away from hospital to go to movies and disco dancing; a man ultimately afraid to confront death by at first refusing to touch a dead body, or to come to grips with his own impending death.
Hawks is more than the story of how two men confront their own mortality: it is the weaving of a relationship that proves life is ultimately worth struggling for, then touchingly and tragically allows death to become more gentle and acceptable because it occurs in the arms of a friend.
If one inviolable rule in life is that everyone, young or old, experienced or innocent, must die, then Hawks may seem a depressing story of two young men ravaged by a disease they cannot accept, nor comprehend the finality of, yet there are no heavily redundant "why me?" scenes in this film; rather there is a sad acknowledgement of a mortal's condition, and the resolve to assert an indomitable human spirit by racing to meet death, rather than by letting it quietly overwhelm them as separate and solitary individuals.
Bancroft and Deckermensky "escape" from hospital in a "borrowed" ambulance and eventually drive drive to Amsterdam, in search of the ultimate bordello. As developed in the script, it is not really sexual gratification they seek (both men assumingly impotent, despite Bancroft's complaint of being constantly "randy"), but rather a control over their lives that modern medicine is helpless to provide, and blind in it's treatment. In hospital, patients are merely bodies who must follow rules: undergo radiation treatments that will only sicken and disfigure, while offering merely the slim hope of a quite temporary remission; obey the curfews and maintain the facade of cheerfulness, while staff and patients alike are expected to deny the known fatality of the disease; wait patiently, while turning a blind eye to those dying around you; accept IV tubes in the arm without the simple dignity of being assisted to the toilet.
When Bancroft, a wealthy solicitor by occupation, refuses to let his roommate, a former American athlete, commit suicide or succumb to the depression of physical weakness, they take oaths to become "knights of the sick joke," and pledge to enjoy what vitality that have left. Once in the Netherlands, they befriend two English women on a pathetic journey of their own. Neither woman is attractive by the men's standards of physical beauty:
Hazel is a "ten-foot giraffe," while Maureen is short and "chunky." After an initial attempt to abandon them, the two "knights errant" agree to take the women to their unpronounceable destination, where Hazel seeks the unknowing father of her unborn child.
Slowly, and with a subtle unawareness, Bancroft and Deck's relationship develops, while Bancroft's feelings for Hazel grow from unemotional detachment, to genuine concern, then finally to real love. The bedroom scene between Bancroft and Hazel is masterfully played; Deck's death is touching and poignant, while the concluding scenes are uplifting, giving cause to believe that Bancroft, like Deck, will find his death more meaningful because he has finally discovered how to love.
Hawks may be far from a perfect movie: too carefully written (or perhaps too reworked), the script suffers from intermittent lack of intensity in the writing, compelling the actors to generate, on their own, a depth of emotion without benefit of one clearly climactic scene. The characterization is sketchy, and would have benefited from clearer opportunities for Bancroft and Deck to do some soul-searching with one another as their relationship expanded from that of strangers sharing the same hospital ward, to become caring friends, sharing profound experiences of life and death. All the female characters in the movie suffered from an overall lack of dignity, being the recipients of most of the cheap humour the movie relied upon to keep the plot moving.
Hawks saw limited release in the US, and was not slightly aided by an incomprehensibly inept advertising campaign, featuring a poster centered on two men (clearly not Dalton and Edwards) sitting in hospital gowns on a power line, surrounded by mourning doves, the men's backs to camera with the legend "They found a funny way of looking at life... Just when they needed it most."
The fact that Hawks was not a commercial success belies the fact that it was a film well worth making. At this peak in his career, Timothy Dalton, the actor, could have chosen any number of critically and financially safe projects to which he could have lent his name and talent. The fact that he chose a film that challenged his acting ability, while dealing with a complex and traditionally difficult subject, is a tribute to Timothy Dalton, the human being.