In The Mean Season (1985), a grizzled veteran on the verge of retirement gets drawn into one last irrefusable job. But Kurt Russell’s Malcolm Anderson isn’t a cop or a jewel thief. He belongs to a different breed of vainglorious movie professional, the journalist. We meet him as he arrives unshaven at the newsroom of The Miami Journal in a powder blue suit, the knot in his tie already sinking. He tells his editor (the always welcome Richard Masur) he’s tired of seeing his byline next to crime scene photos, but he’s sent out anyway to cover an execution-style murder on a nearby beach. The subsequent front page article earns the admiration of the killer, who calls Anderson with congratulations and a promise to claim four more victims.
Anderson and the murderer (Richard Jordan), initially seen only in pore-perusing closeups that conceal his identity, begin a telephone correspondence that makes Anderson himself the subject of press swarms. His reporting inspires whispers of a Pullitzer, but it drives a wedge between him and his schoolteacher girlfriend, played by Mariel Hemingway, who’s assigned artless dialogue like “are you reporting on [the crimes], or participating in [them]?” The killer also grows resentful of Anderson’s rising star, lamenting that the reporter is “becoming more important than me” after a national TV appearance.
Full of rehashed genre conventions and bland staging, The Mean Season has enough going on at its margins to carve out for itself a respectable niche among B-tier neo-noirs. The script has the intrusiveness of media vultures on its mind, but the film is most effective in its more subtle handling of Anderson’s narcissism. Both the Journal’s editor and the so-called “Numbers Killer” share an infatuation with the writer that verges on the erotic. The former casts admiring glances at his beleaguered colleague from across the newsroom, while the latter struggles to conceal a giddy fandom just beneath his demented killer persona. Add to the mix a wild, albeit underutilized score by Lalo Schifrin (the composer behind the Mission: Impossible theme) that combines brass, synthesizer and Herrmannian strings, as well as a euphorically unhinged performance by Jordan, and you have a quintessential Saturday afternoon potboiler that’s tough to shake.
The Mean Season screens on 35mm July 9 & 12 in Metrograph’s series “Miami Heat”