The Seattle police have just prevented the owner of a jewelry shop from stealing expensive diamonds, but he refuses to talk about what he is up to, claiming that this is his merchandise and he has every right to take what belongs to him. The lead agent in charge, Warren Stantin (Sidney Poitier) manages to coax the real reason from the man: his wife is being held hostage back at his home by a maniac who has forced him to take as many diamonds as he can and bring them to him. Soon the cops have the place surrounded...
But they find this criminal is no fool, and has a method of escaping their clutches. Fortunately this was made before the nineties craze for having their psychopathic villains exhibit all the signs of a genius for evildoing, so the bad guy here is a little more believable, though there were still moments which stretched credibility. For most of the time, Shoot to Kill was a solid thriller, made notable by the spectacular scenery the cast made their way through, but also because it marked Poitier's return to the screen after too long away, preferring to direct in the meantime. If it wasn't groundbreaking, he had earned the right to appear in something run of the mill.
Stantin pursues the thief who quickly turns murderer, killing his hostage and making off with the loot, but the agent has some idea of where he is going: the forests and mountains of the American-Canadian border, where he hopes to make good his escape, sell the gemstones, and presumably retire on the proceeds. Not if Stantin has anything to do with it, naturally, but in an interesting move, possibly the most interesting thing about this, there's a whodunnit element as the killer secretes himself onto a fishing party hiking through the landscape, led by tracker Kirstie Alley. Which of these men, we have to ponder, could be the psycho?
They keep that identity well-hidden, especially as the killer seems to have had a haircut since he fled, and you could argue that at the halfway mark he is revealed too soon, but it does lead to a striking scene where he manages to throw everyone else off a cliff except the tracker, who he needs as another hostage. One person none too pleased at that is her boyfriend, Jonathan Knox (Tom Berenger), a mountain man who is present to provide buddy movie mismatched personality tension and humour: I told you this was nothing groundbreaking, and there was a tendency to fall back on cliché when nothing better inspired them.
Still, it was good to see Poitier acting again, and he looked very able as his character traversed the rocky, snowy, inhospitable countryside. In the United Kingdom Shoot to Kill was renamed due to the proximity of its release to the notorious Hungerford massacre, the feeling being that alternate title Deadly Pursuit was more appropriate and sensitive, although really the film was more of an adventure which courted comparisons to the great outdoor Westerns of Anthony Mann. Certainly this became a favourite of one type of person: schedulers of late night television, where it became a staple thanks to its easy to watch qualities, nothing too offensive even with a madman killing people in it, the sort of thing you could view confident that you would see some medium level thrills and action just before you headed off to bed. Do not underestimate the entertainment value of such movies: at the right time of night, they're ideal. Music by John Scott.