Detective Jerry Robinson and Eric Natter are unlikely allies in Ambushed.
Jim Natter (William Sadler), the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in a small southern town is murdered during an early morning rendezvous at a gas station. But the killers don’t realize that Natter’s twelve year old son, Eric (Jeremy Lelliott), was waiting in his car, and witnessed the murder. When two sheriff’s detectives Jerry Robinson (Courtney B. Vance) and Mike Organski (William Forsythe) go to the scene to investigate, they find Eric hiding in the bushes nearby. When they ask who he is, he replies with a full Nazi salute and derogatory racist talk to Robinson, who is black. Later in the sheriff’s interrogation room, Eric continues to be defiant and threatening to Robinson, at one point telling him “One phone call and you’re hanging from a tree.” Meanwhile rumors are coming into Sheriff Carter’s (Charles Hallihan) office that the murder was the work of black militants. Concerned that their only eyewitness is in grave danger, the sheriff orders Robinson, Organski, and two other deputies, Dunbar and Lawrence (Scott Hinson and David Keith), to escort Eric to a safe house and keep him in protective custody until things can be sorted out. On the way, the car is ambushed by masked killers with automatic weapons. Dunbar is killed, Lawrence jumps out of the car, and Eric, Mike, and Jerry are left alone to try and escape. Wounded during the attack, Mike struggles to back the car up, but it has been devastated by the gun fire and eventually crashes, forcing them to flee into the nearby woods. It turns out that Lawrence was part of the murder conspiracy and set up the ambush. When Lawrence comes back to help the assassins finish the job, he and Mike shoot each other, but not before Lawrence uses Robinson’s gun to shoot some bullets into the already dead Dunbar to frame Robinson for the crime. Later after the sheriff and some other deputies arrive at the scene, the dying Lawrence names Robinson as Mike’s killer as well.
Eric is locked in the motel bathroom after spouting off racist slogans to Jerry.
While the shooting is going on, Jerry and Eric run out of the woods and find a diner. Jerry calls the sheriff’s office to report in and find out what has happened to the other deputies, as Eric continually protests “Don’t call the police!” When Jerry figures that he is being stonewalled on the other end, he hangs up and confronts Eric, asking him why he is trusted but not the other police. Eric replies that it is because Jerry is black (but using the “n” word). Jerry then realizes that Eric did see the killers, that they were white, and that some deputies in the sheriff’s office are involved in the conspiracy. In the background on the television in the diner, the leader of the Patriot Christian Order, Shannon Herrold (Robert Patrick) is denouncing the murder and describing Jim Natter as an upright family man who helped find jobs for the good Christian folk in the town. Jerry now begins to understand the depths of his dilemma: there is a lot more to the killing than he initially thought, he is being framed for the murders, Eric is the only witness who can clear his name, and there are only two people who can now help him, Lucy Monroe (Virginia Madsen), a female deputy sheriff and one of his few friends on the force and an old Marine buddy, Watts Fatboy (Bill Nunn). Renting an old car from a waitress at the diner, Jerry and Eric take off until the car breaks down, then go to a nearby motel. At the motel, Eric mouths off more racial slurs, and creates a ruckus yelling “white power” over and over in the bathroom after he is locked there in frustration by Jerry while he goes out to find transportation and contact his friends. When the motel manager calls the sheriff, the killers are tipped off, and come to the motel to kill Eric. But Eric is again rescued by Jerry and the two of them take off to a forest cabin hideout where Jerry is to meet Watts and Lucy later. At the cabin, Eric and Jerry finally start to communicate with each other, and there is an intense scene where Eric tells Robinson about his family life and the values he was taught as the son of a KKK Grand Dragon. Meanwhile the well informed killers find and capture Watts, forcing him to take them to the hideout. The rest of the movie deals with how Robinson, Watts, Lucy, and Eric fight off the murderous attacks of the killers and end up confronting Shannon Herrold, the real leader of the murder conspiracy. At the same time Eric must figure out how to reconcile the reality of the tumultuous events swirling around him with his preconceived notions about others that he learned from his father.
Two of Shannon’s henchmen grab Eric so that they can hang him.
Ambushed is a film with two levels of interest. On the surface level, it is a typical shoot-’em-up action film, with lots of gunfire and chase scenes like you would see in a Clint Eastwood movie. When the killers come to attack Jerry and Eric in their cabin hideout, it very much reminds you of the scene in Pink Cadillac where the police come and mow down the house where Eastwood and Bernadette Peters have been staying. Just beneath the surface is a very unsettling look at race relationships in the south, pitting the attitudes of the white supremacist movement against some of the realities of today. The film is very up front with its depiction of racial bigotry and unlimited gunfire, easily winning its “R” rating for violence and language. Both Courtney D. Vance as the cool-headed black cop up against southern racism and Jeremy Lelliott as the Klansman’s son whose world of white power is suddenly turned upside down deliver quality performances. Despite the limitations and content of the story, Vance and Lelliott develop an interesting rapport as the ongoing violent elements of the story line force them to develop what initially seems to be an unthinkable friendship. You definitely would like to see these actors work together again in another film. Give screenwriter Andrew Miles some credit for taking his time in developing their relationship, and using another character (ably played by Bill Nunn) to create the emotional catharsis that eventually occurs to Eric Natter. Other characters in the film are well cast, including Virginia Madsen as the deputy who continues to believe in and help Jerry and Robert Patrick (who you might remember as the evil robot in Terminator II) as the megalomaniac leader of the Patriot Christian Order. And yes there are a lot of good old boys continually crossing your screen.
As Eric struggles to escape from the killers’ noose, the camera focuses on his chucks.
Eric and Jerry duck for cover as Shannon’s team of assassins approaches their hideout.
It is one of the film’s ironies that Jeremy Lelliott in his role as Eric spouts a lot of racist talk and admiration of Adolph Hitler yet dresses like a typical grunge and hip hop-influenced American kid complete with backwards baseball cap, baggy jeans, loose flannel shirt, and black high top chucks laced only to the sixth eyelet. The only close up shots occur during Eric’s struggle with two of the killers who grab him in the motel room and attempt to string him up. The best chucks scene is towards the end of the movie, during the shootout at their forest cabin hideout, where Eric grabs a pair of pistols and fires back at attacking KKK members.
Eric fires back as Jerry tries to figure out a way to escape the killers.
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