Flashpoint (1984) is a film starring Rip Torn, Kris Kristofferson, Treat Williams and was William Tannen’s directorial debut. Flashpoint was also the first film produced by Home Box Office (HBO)—on a side note, it was thought-provoking to see the original HBO introduction again when the revolving HBO letters came at you against the outer space background.
Williams and Kristofferson are jaded, yet prankish border patrol officers fighting a pointless battle against the steady flow of illegal immigrants into Texas. Kristofferson is a gentle cynic, highly decorated veteran with quiet personality that hides his resentment for “the system.” Williams is a younger idealist and bit of a hothead who foolishly speaks out against injustice and corruption. Their friendship and camaraderie is profound and real in a way few movies from Hollywood are ever able to depict. For whatever reason Treat Williams and Kris Kristofferson are a pair of actors whose talents haven’t always been well utilized by the Hollywood machine though they should have been after their performance in Flashpoint.
On the dark side of the force, Flashpoint has characters like “Department of Public Safety” (i.e. Texas Ranger) Rip Torn and other malevolent government agents that show us how true villains are simply focused career men who ruthlessly believe in the perverted values they’ve espoused. However Torn, at the end of the day, changes and is willing to sacrifice his life for it. In the last scene Torn, looking back on his own life and anticipating Kristofferson’s edgy future, shouts “Do it! Be the one who got away! Whatever happens, should’ve happened years ago.” Taking responsibility for his past and seeking redemption by staying behind to hold off the government killers to “buy time” for Kristofferson’s get away.
Now back to the story. Kristofferson and Williams discover a Jeep buried in the desert with a skeleton, a fishing box containing a high-powered rifle and $800,000 in cash. The bills and the skeleton’s driver’s license are dated circa 1963. Soon, the two guards find themselves running for their lives from Federal agents who are determined to kill anyone in connection to the discovery.
The two reason that since the cash has been ignored for that long, they have as much right as anyone else. Kristofferson wants to split the cash with Williams and immediately head for Mexico. Williams is tempted but it doesn’t pass his smell test or his nagging personal code of honor.
To appease Williams, Kristofferson does some detective work to see whether or not the cash is clean. They come to the shocking realization that they are against forces much bigger than they ever imagined—and Williams pays the ultimate price of it: that the driver of the Jeep was the true assassin of John F. Kennedy, not Lee Harvey Oswald, and that the Government, with help from the Dallas Police Department, were involved with the assassination. VHS viewers (for you younger people out there those were large cassettes which, when placed into a machine called a VCR, would play movies) who rented the movie in the 80’s, the mystery was revealed on the back cover of the cassette box.
Sneer all you want that Flashpoint is “just another JFK conspiracy movie,” and has been virtually ignored by critics and audiences since Reagan was President, but the film is one of the best movies of its time. Rip Torn’s sagely advice for a shell-shocked Kristofferson at the end will stick with you. “Don’t be a martyr. We already got enough of those. Be different. Be the one that got away.”
My advice to you—don’t let this one get away.