Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Against All Odds

Against All Odds posterAgainst All Odds (1984) features the steamy Yucatán Peninsula as its tropical getaway, as an escape from a difficult past, and as a place to be swept off your feet by love. But how long can the blissful warmth of the Mexican sun hide you from your troubles? How long until you realize that you do not belong there? How long until you begin to go crazy? No matter how far away Latin America may seem, your troubles will always catch up to you, and you will have to go home and finish what you've started.

This is what happens to protagonist Terry Brogan, played by a tanned and muscular Jeff Bridges, in his effort to escape the difficulties in his life in Los Angeles. A professional football player who has just been cut from his team, he is left with no future and huge debts. He really needs money, so he takes a job from a local crook, a wealthy, corrupt bookie named Jake Wise. Jake offers Terry $30,000 to find his girlfriend, Jessie Wyler (Rachel Ward), who has disappeared with $50,000 and left him brokenhearted. Curiously enough, Jessie is the daughter of the owners of Terry's football team (and half of Bel-Air, for that matter). Armed with a picture, Terry flies down to Cozumel, Mexico, to find what he thinks will be a spoiled, impetuous 25-year old.

What Terry finds is a complex, damaged, and beautiful woman who is running away from a tyrannical relationship with Jake and a suffocating relationship with her parents. He promptly falls in love with her, and the two spend several weeks in a whirlwind romance in the island paradise of Cozumel. After a while, Terry needs to throw Jake off his scent and spends a few weeks flying around Mexico. He returns to meet Jessie at the Mayan site of Chichén Itzá, where she has been waiting desperately for him. As they wander around ruins together, Jessie admits that she is going crazy in Mexico, and fears she must go home to face Jake, from whose obsessive love she cannot escape. Terry explosively professes his love for her, and she reciprocates. They proceed to express their love in a sweaty sex scene in an abandoned Mayan steam-room, only to be interrupted by Terry's ex-football coach, Sully. Terry is bewildered to find Sully in Chichén Itzá, but soon realizes that Sully works for Jake, and has come to kill Terry and bring Jessie back to L.A. A fight ensues, in which Jessie shoots Sully in order to save Terry from being strangled. Terrified, Jessie flees, leaving Terry alone in the eerie Mayan city to dump the body in a sacred cenote (water-hole). Terry returns to the hotel and finds that Jessie is gone, along with all her things. At a loss, he returns to L.A.

When Terry goes to see Jake, he discovers Jessie there, living with Jake, having told him everything. Jake is enraged that Terry and Jessie have betrayed him, and insists that Terry must do a job for him to gain his forgiveness. Confused and hurt by Jessie's behaviour, Terry reluctantly agrees. The job is to steal some files from the office of a well-known L.A. lawyer. These files contain incriminating evidence of Terry and other football players throwing games for Jake in the past; the lawyer was previously part of the scheme, but now Jake wants him out. When Terry arrives at the office, he finds the lawyer shot dead in the bathroom. But he has no time for shock, because suddenly one of Jake's crooks barges in and tries to kill Terry. Terry manages to kill him first and run away, but he knows he must return to get those files so that he is safe from incrimination. By a stroke of luck, he finds the lawyer's secretary, Edie, in a nearby bar, and asks her to go to the office and retrieve the files. Edie goes back up and tells Jake's crooks, who are guarding the place, that she works for Jake. After removing the safe-deposit box containing the files, she flees safely, and gives the box to Terry. Terry discovers that the deposit box contains concrete evidence proving the corruption of a number of powerful L.A. citizens, including Jessie Wyler's mother and stepfather, Ben Caxton. Terry calls Jake and arranges a meeting to exchange the deposit box for Jessie. Jake brings Caxton, for whom he actually works, and one of his henchmen. The rendezvous takes place in the Hollywood Hills at night. A scuffle and gunplay result in Jessie killing Jake. Caxton, who owns most of Bel-Air, agrees to protect Terry in exchange for the files, but insists that he keep away from Jessie forever. Terry accepts.

In the last scene, Terry arrives unwelcome at a political event held by Jessie's mother and Caxton in the sunny hills above L.A.. He has come to see Jessie, but Caxton stands in his way. Terry promises that he will not let Caxton keep them apart. Phil Collins's hit song "Against All Odds" accompanies the fading image of Jessie's tear-stained face.

This L.A.-noir film criticizes the corruption of the Californian elite and their decadent lifestyle. It seems that L.A. is full of crooks, liars, thieves, and their victims. Even Terry Brogan is one of these, with his past of rigging football games; Jessie Wyler is just as bad, with her theft of Jake's money and her troublesome life. But in Mexico, Terry and Jessie can escape from all the mess they've gotten themselves into. Suddenly, all the crime and corruption of the States seems a million miles away; instead they are surrounded by friendly, colourful locals, idyllic beaches, and magical Mayan ruins. Their love blooms in the Mexican sun. Terry has completely forgotten about football, and Jessie about Jake's possessiveness. However, the escape can only last so long, and by the time they are in Chichén Itzá, they are both crumbling under the stress and fear of what awaits them back home. Jessie screams, "I'm going crazy! We don't belong here!" Almost immediately thereafter, they are literally caught up with by Sully, who turns their romantic dream into a nightmare. The previously romantic and magical ruins of Chichán Itzá become a terrible, lonely place, with vultures circling above and echoes filling the emptiness.

Latin America can provide a romantic and blissful escape from life, but never indefinitely. Whatever you are running from, it will catch up to you in Latin American; it just may take a little longer. Whatever you are trying to suppress will always emerge, and whoever you're trying to hide from will find you. Again, it just may take a little longer.

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