Fire Down Below is a movie I missed upon it’s release. It wasn’t until the DVD became popular and Warner Brothers was releasing all of it’s action movies on the so-called Best Buy label. All of Seagal’s movies fell under this label and got a release. I knew all of them but one, this one. Now the reason I missed this one was that at the time Seagal’s prime was over, it went straight to video over here and without the internet you just need to stumble upon a film like this in the video-store. That just didn’t happen I guess. Well, I’ve seen it now a couple of times so it’s time for an opinion.
Fire Down Below feels somewhat smaller on the epic-scale than his movies he dead the years before that; from Under Siege to The Glimmer Man. Sure, it has a truck chase and pyrotechnics but on storyline-level it’s less elaborate then say: solving a serial killer case. The story this time: Seagal plays Jack Taggert (the name doesn’t really matter considering he plays the same character in every movie) and he goes undercover as a carpenter in the small town of Jackson, Kentucky. Government officials investigating pollution and toxic-waste-dumping have gone missing so Seagal eventually volunteers to go there. His way of investigating does not only consist of examining water samples and talking to townsfolk undercover but also beating the living shit out of who ever stands in his way. A lot of people stand in his way.
But that’s to be expected, because this is a Steven Seagal movie and we love ’em for it. Even the marketing-department of Warner Brothers knows that because this is what the DVD cover says on the back:
When thugs try to take him out of the action, Taggert takes on another line of work. He’s in the butt-kicking business. Business is good.
I wonder how many people actually read the backside of these covers because they always sound so corny. The cover of Under Siege 2, the Die Hard on a train film, closes it’s synopsis of the film with “All aboard!”. Somewhere out there, there is someone typing this shit down and laughing his ass of because he actually gets paid for it. Lucky him.
But you can’t judge a movie by is poster, and so shouldn’t I.
Like I said earlier Fire Down Below is a more small scale film compared to the movies previously done. It’s setting is a small town and the bad guys aren’t trained mercenaries or the mob but rather a couple of local hillbilly strongmen. The kind that go to their boss after being beaten up and saying: “But boss, he did all of that weird karate and stuff”.
Fire Down Below would be the last movie to star Seagal in his usual way for the next couple of years. After this Seagal starred as a doctor(!) in The Patriot which went straight to video in the US, that means it’s release here was even more obscure and went by unnoticed. It wasn’t until 2001 we would get the last really good film Exit Wounds, which was labeled as a comeback. Too bad it was a short-lived one as the DTV-era was lurking just around the corner. So this movie closes a period in the Seagal-filmography-timeline.
I liked Fire Down Below, especially when having watched the entire collection of DTV’s Seagal made. Sure it isn’t as good as movies like both Under Sieges and it hasn’t got a high tempo as his early work like Hard To Kill and Out For Justice but he still performs wide angle action sequences instead of close up as we now always get, he runs and he actually seems to give a damn about this film and tries to act his way trough it. Sure, he does his whispering voice but he also gives passionate speeches with a raised voice. And I loved how one guy gets punched on his nose over and over again throughout the movie. It’s these little things you want from Seagal, and we only seem to get it when he really cares about his project. He cares about this one.
The movie has an eco-storyline; Seagal dealing with a big business coal miner (Kris Kristofferson) who’s using his abandoned coal mines to dump toxic waste in. This toxic waste btw is fluorescent green, like all movie toxic waste. This coal miner, Orin Sr. is so fucking wealthy he actually has a bed in his office and a secretary to go with it.
Being about corporations polluting the environment it’s not a surprise that this film is being compared to On Deadly Ground. Seagal’s first boxoffice failure and considered his worst movie for a long time. It now looks like Citizen Kane when compared to something like Attack Force. This movie is better because it lacks all the eskimo-stuff and heavy preaching. I’m sorry folks, no Nanook, the man-bear this time!
Seagal movies always have some names in the cast that draw attention. This time it’s Kris “Whistler” Kristofferson, Harry Dean Stanton playing a local inbred who seems have a chromosome too much and Marg Helgenberger who would become a household name due to CSI. Marg is actually a step back in terms of love-interest or at least female co-starrer considering she was predecessed by hot women like Pam Grier, Sharon Stone, Kelly LeBrock, Erika Eleniak and Katherine Heigl. Not that I’m saying she’s ugly, but she isn’t Playboy-material either. She does convince as a woman who would be living in a small town like that. Any of the other forementioned women would stand out too much.
Marg plays Sarah Kellogg. It would be fun if she was playing a serial-killer with a name like that.
It’s easy to see how people wil describe Fire Down Below as a simple eco-action-film, but they aren’t seeing that it’s actually a movie about disturbed relationships. Not only does Orin Sr (Kristofferson) put his son, who’s handling the town, down every chance he gets, it’s his son who will be responsible for his downfall. Sarah (Helgenberger) is being shunned by the town, but also has an unhealthy relationship with her brother. This is redneck-country y’all. And on a less personal level: the police, on the take of course, aren’t the guys that “protect and serve”. The townsfolk also have a thing against outsiders. The entire town should go in group-therapy.
Now I must mention the cinematography. I thought the movie was beautifully shot. Not only the local scenery looks stunning but also the night-scenes where the church is burning or the town-festival are beautifully lit. It really grabbed my attention and the movie looked far from cheap because of it.
Fire Down Below is an average film but way better than many of Seagal’s DTV-efforts so it actually has gotten better over the years in my opinion.