There must have been something in the water in the mid-to-late ‘90s, as we had fortyish women like Davis, Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver all carrying action films.
Last month, it was announced that Geena Davis would star in a film called Cowgirl’s Last Ride, which will chronicle the adventures of an elderly Texas cowgirl who escapes from a nursing home to live out the rest of her life on her own terms. Meanwhile, Samuel L. Jackson, Davis’ co-star in 1996’s underrated The Long Kiss Goodnight, wasn’t even the oldest dude kicking ass in this year’s Shaft film (that honor would go to the original Shaft, Richard Roundtree, who starred as Jackson’s father). So Davis, who is nearly a decade younger than Jackson, has been cinematically relegated to the nursing home while men like Jackson, Liam Neeson, Harrison Ford and others get to continue kicking butt.
It didn’t have to be this way. And were the world more fair, the excellent The Long Kiss Goodnight would have turned Davis into an action star like her contemporaries Bruce Willis and Nicolas Cage. Instead, the film underperformed at the box office and wasn’t really embraced by critics, though some of this attribute that to how quickly Goodnight came on the heels of Davis’ and director (and husband at the time) Renny Harlin’s prior collaboration, Cutthroat Island, which was released 10 months before. And then Davis faded into a variety of maternal roles.
But The Long Kiss Goodnight deserves another look. Written by Lethal Weapon writer Shane Black, the film chronicles the awakening of Samantha Caine (Davis), an amnesiac schoolteacher. Samantha, who washed up, pregnant, on the shore eight years before, has hired a string of private detectives to research her past, but no one has come up with much. The latest of these, Mitch (Jackson), doesn’t appear to be very trustworthy, but he’s in the right place at the right time. Samantha is in a car accident and sustains a concussion, which unlocks some of her former skills, if not memories. When she is attacked, however, she realizes that she is a killer – and a good one – and so she hits the road with Mitch so that she doesn’t pose a threat to her boyfriend and daughter.
Many of the same themes were explored in more highfalutin fashion in David Cronenberg’s 2005’s A History of Violence, but the fun here is the pulp. Harlin was one of the best action directors of the ‘90s, and the famously tall Davis has the perfect combination of friendly demeanor and athletic physicality to pull of the tricky schoolteacher-turned-asssassin (or assassin-turned-schoolteacher-turned-assassin) role. As we’ve seen in everything from The Avengers to Pulp Fiction to Star Wars, Jackson is a dream supporting actor, and Mitch is right in his strike zone. Funnily enough, Jackson himself has said that The Long Kiss Goodnight is his favorite of his own films. In addition, a survey of those involved in action films (writers, directors, stars and stunt people) placed the film in the top 100 action films of all time.
There must have been something in the water in the mid-to-late ‘90s, as we had fortyish women like Davis, Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver all carrying action films. Some of these were hits, and others weren’t, but it must have felt like doors were opening. How painful then for those same doors to be shut for much of the early 21st century? Luckily, thanks to the success of films like last year’s Halloween sequel and research by organizations like Davis’ own Institute on Gender in Media (which has garnered her this year’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Oscar), the times seem to be changing. Linda Hamilton is back and kicking ass in Terminator, Curtis is having a career renaissance on the back of her Halloween success and other actresses are showing us that women can carry action-heavy film and television in their 40s.