Central Park is the crown jewel of NYC. Aside from isolated homeless attacks and other acts of violence, it is traditionally seen as an escape from the concrete jungle. A place you can hear yourself think, or enjoy a day with the family. A park so large, that unless you have been there you cannot imagine its scope and size. In 1985 a film was made that not only turned Central Park into a nightmare, it became the symbol of the forgotten Vietnam Veterans. Oh, and it includes a killer score by Tangerine Dream and won a Cable Ace Award by the way.
Like other movies of the genre (First Blood, The Exterminator) The Park is Mine is the story of a Veteran that has had enough. Based on the 1981 novel of the same name, The movie opens with a man (Mike) standing atop a hospital while the media films his suicide attempt – from roof-top rambling to street-splat, the camera catches it all.
CUT TO: a young-ish Tommy Lee Jones (that guy who roomed in college with Al Gore of internet creation fame) who is introduced as our anti-hero Mitch, living out his post-‘Nam days amidst the filth and booze of the Waverly Hotel. Mitch is a returning Vet who can’t hold down a job or a marriage and is barred from visiting his son.
OK, background established in tight, made-for-TV style. Now for the action rev up: Mitch receives a letter from the now-dead Mike, a Vietnam buddy that had been dying of unspecified Jungle cancer (Agent Orange???). In the letter Mike goes on about how he just can’t take it anymore, but had been planning on bringing attention to Veterans and their post-deployment plight. Mike explains that he has laced Central Park with a cache of weapons and explosives; a combination of fake bombs, blank cartridges and live ordnance. This is Mike’s cry for help in a City (world) where no one is listening. If Turk 182 (1985) and Tank (1984) have taught us anything, the only response to large-scale urban indifference is anonymous, vigilant ACTION! Mike’s actions are to not terroristic in nature and Mitch understands this and is more than happy to oblige his friend’s dying wish.
CUE THE WAR PLANNING: We find Mitch in the Park going through the schematics, the armory and locations of explosives already planted by Mike. Of course the authorities find Mitch doing some recon, and throw him out knowing damn well he’s a Vet (Will Teasle, eat your heart out…) an agitated, annoyed and RESOLVED Mitch know what must be done. With Veteran’s Day around the corner he is going to take over the Park for 72 hours. The Park will be his, oh it will be… He begins his siege by letting the Police Department know he doesn’t want to hurt anyone and lets them know the station needs to be evacuated. He lets the precinct know “The Park is Mine”. He is taken for a prank caller until he detonates his chargers (amazingly not killing a single officer).
MONTAGE – ACTION, ACTION, ACTION: For the remainder of the film we find Mitch riding around a dirt bike setting off fake explosives and firing blanks at the police he keeps at bay. The police, finding themselves out of their element, decide they need to call in the National Guard. The self-serving city government headed up by Deputy Mayor Dix isn’t having it (probably an election year). They put out a presser that it’s a group of terrorists and not a lone man. Mitch is able to get his message out to the media that all he wants is people to stay out of the Park for 72 hours, which corresponds with Veterans Day.
A nosey, and kind of sexy reporter named Valery (Helen Shaver) manages to sneak into the Park unbeknownst to the entire police force. Wielding nothing but a 25 pound Betamax camera she ends up documenting the remainder of Mitch’s exploits and gets his message of controlled mayhem out to the world. Besides one obligatory breast shot Valery is just there to be proof of who Mitch really is (not the maniac that is portrayed by, well, his maniacal actions…)
The entire police force is made to look like Keystone Cops except for Eubanks played by Yaphet Kotto. Eubanks knows what’s up, and understands what Mitch is doing. Wave after wave of generic officers are sent in to kill Mitch but are stopped at every turn by booby traps and his superior knowledge of Guerrilla warfare. The police bring in sharp shooters to try and take him down but fail at every attempt. Including using his wife to make a call into the park where she professes her love. Tommy Lee Jones is just too damn fleet of foot. This is US Marshall Sam Gerard on the OTHER side of the gambit and it’s oh so much fun.
Amidst this chaos, the City (as with the actual Vietnam conflict) is divided on whether Mitch is an honorable ex-serviceman or an abomination. A street peddler is even selling t-shirts on Central Park West that reads “The Park is Mine” the entire city appears to have surrounded the park; either cheering or jeering Mitch and his mission. On the last day, Veterans Day the city brass decides to drop in a chopper full of Special Forces to make sure they kill Mitch, not capture. This is where the ammo goes live. Mitch is not holding up well. He assumes an Asian solider is a member of the Viet-Cong (possible PTSD) and his priorities switch (King Kong-like) from rallying for Veteran’s rights to keeping Valery alive (“No Kong! No!”). He takes out the supposed Viet-Cong agent with a strafe of heavy machine gun fire. As he is trying to get our intrepid journalist out, they get pinned down by a grenade launching, grizzled ex-soldier with one prime directive: kill. He eventually shoots Valery in the back (collateral damage circa Nam). The unnamed killer has Mitch dead to rights when Eubanks levels off his own machine gun and looks to be taking Mitch out when he fires on the mercenary, sending him to his grave. Eubanks here bucks the system he is knows to be corrupt. Thank goodness Valery and her camera will live to tell the tale. The last shot is of Mitch being handcuffed and put in the back of a patrol car. Making Valery promise to tell his story, the truth. Not the media spun bullshit. The Park was his, if only for a couple of days …
Review by Anthony Mulberry