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The Onion Field (1979)

The Onion Field


Average Rating: 7.4/10
Reviews Counted: 12
Fresh: 10
Rotten: 2

Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.

No Top Critics Tomatometer score yet...

Average Rating: N/A
Reviews Counted: 4
Fresh: 2
Rotten: 2


Average Rating: 3.5/5
User Ratings: 1,905


Movie Info

Joseph Wambaugh's The Onion Field is based on an actual 1963 case. L.A. plainclothesmen Karl Hattinger (John Savage) and Ian Campbell (Ted Danson) routinely investigate a pair of suspicious types, Greg Powell (James Woods) and Jimmy Smith (Franklin Seales). Unexpectedly, Powell pulls a gun on the cops, then forces them into a deserted onion field, where he kills Campbell in cold blood. Hattinger manages to escape, and through his eyewitness account, Powell and Smith are arrested. But that is not … More

Directed By:
In Theaters:
Sep 17, 2002


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Critic Reviews for The Onion Field

All Critics (12) | Top Critics (4) | Fresh (10) | Rotten (2) | DVD (11)

The Onion Field is a serious and most uncompromising movie. It lacks, however, the sort of disciplined craft that might have made it a powerful and affecting one.

Full Review… | September 10, 2011
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

James Woods as the near-psychotic Powell is chillingly effective, creating a flakiness in the character that exudes the danger of a live wire near a puddle.

Full Review… | March 26, 2009
Top Critic

It's the usual heavy Wambaugh brew: police procedure closely observed without a trace of romanticism, suggesting simply that life in the force is psychological hell.

Full Review… | January 26, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

The film is generally crisp and at times exciting, but it's also full of incidents that are only sketchily explained, and minus the all-important narrative thread that might have provided a clear point of view.

Full Review… | May 9, 2005
New York Times
Top Critic

Brutal, even sordid, but compulsive viewing.

Full Review… | September 10, 2011

Good acting and careful direction by Becker make it worth seeing, but the violence and the language may be too graphic for some tastes.

Full Review… | September 10, 2011
TV Guide's Movie Guide

Ranks among the best crime films of the late 1970s...and that puts the flick among some rather impressive company.

Full Review… | November 8, 2002
Apollo Guide

Thoughtful trial movie with a disturbing edge.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Empire Magazine

Audience Reviews for The Onion Field

The Onion Field has real potential to be a very compelling film. There are tons of great character pieces with a complex plot, but it all somehow just doesn't go anywhere. This film is based on true events, but I'm wondering if the actual events were portrayed as is, and if so, did they need to be so true to them? I'm not going to spoil the entirety of the film, nor am I going to get into a discussion on dramatic character development and satisfactory story, but it basically winds down to nothing. Dramatic tension tries its hardest to kick in at times with little to no pay-off. This, to me, seemed more suited to be a Broadway production rather than a film. Two hours of complex plot and emotionally unsatisfying events make for a very dull film, despite the talent behind it.

Tim Salmons

Super Reviewer


A fantastic crime/prison movie, the story is really incredible, and the actors are great. The only problem is that it's a little too long. Other than that I loved it.

AJ Verser

Super Reviewer

"The Onion Field" features a complex narrative and well-developed characters, but ultimately, it never goes anywhere. The scenes that are meant to provoke emotion fall flat, the final twenty minutes or so are unnecessary, and the pacing is slow and unbalanced. James Woods delivers a strong performance, but that's about it. There's nothing noteworthy about this film other than that.

Stephen Earnest
Stephen Earnest

Super Reviewer

The Onion Field Quotes

Karl Hattinger:
[while in the onion field seeing his partner crying] That's the onions. It makes you eyes water.
Greg Powell:
Don't waste bullets!
– Submitted by rick b (2 years ago)
Karl Hattinger:
At least you're tall enough to carry it. Married life's making me feel like an avocado with feet.
Jimmy Smith:
Mr. Brooks... I believe... I think that is something that rich white guys dreamed up to keep guys like me down. I honestly don't believe there is such a thing... such a feeling. Guilty? That's just something the Man says in court when your luck runs out.
LAPD Captain:
Any man who gives up his gun to some punk is a coward. Any man who does can kiss his badge goodbye, if I can help it. You're policemen. Put your trust in God.
District Attorney Phil Halpin:
Let 'em walk. If only I could send some lawyers and judges to the gas chamber.
– Submitted by rick b (2 years ago)

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