The Onion Field (1979)
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
No Top Critics Tomatometer score yet...
Movie InfoJoseph 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 that. Thanks to their knowledge and manipulation of the quicksilver legal system, Powell and Smith manage to evade prosecution for years. Meanwhile, Hattinger goes through hell on earth, tortured with guilt over the fact that he lived while Campbell died so ignominiously. … More
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Critic Reviews for The Onion Field
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.
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.
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.
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.
Good acting and careful direction by Becker make it worth seeing, but the violence and the language may be too graphic for some tastes.
Ranks among the best crime films of the late 1970s...and that puts the flick among some rather impressive company.
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.More
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.More
"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.More
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!
- 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.
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