Two Minute Warning came at the end of the disaster trend in the 1970’s. This is actually one of the better disaster films to grace that period. The film is part crime thriller/police drama and also a very effective disaster movie, with its cast of generic stock characters and climactic scenes of mass panic. The tension builds for the majority of the movie and then the climax is riveting, spectacular and disturbing.
Two Minute Warning is one of those films that has a great premise. It's the day of a football playoff game between Los Angeles and Baltimore where 91,000 fans will gather. The stadium is packed, a sniper sneaks in with a high power riffle to the top of the scoreboard, the Good Year blimp spots him, the LA Police and SWAT teams are called to the scene. The two main stars; Charlton Heston, as the head of the LA Police Department and John Cassavettes, as the leader of the SWAT team, are faced with the challenge of stopping the sniper before he starts shooting. Police sharpshooters, dressed as repairmen, take positions atop the stadium lights while important politicians are quietly escorted from the stands. The unidentified suspect holds his fire, pacing about nervously in his roost. A S.W.A.T. sharpshooter is targeted by the gunman and shot, his body dangling from a safety line only feet behind hundreds of people who never notice. The stadium is packed, and the bigger obligatory impending disaster is waiting to happen.
The all star cast also includes Martin Balsam as the coliseum manager, Marilyn Hassett as a college coed, David Janssen a car salesman, Gena Rowlands his girlfriend, Walter Pidgeon a sleazy pickpocket, David Groh as a bachelor doctor who hits on the coed; Jack Klugman is a gambler playing with mob money; Beau Bridges as a unemployed family man and Pamella Bellwood is his wife.
An interesting aspect of the film is the sniper himself. Director Larry Peerce (A Separate Peace, Wired) wisely doesn't reveal the snipper's face and only shows the sniper from a distance or via POV shots of the snipper. Every time one sees the point of view through the sniper's scope waiting for the shot to go off one wonders who is going to get it. This is perhaps the most accomplished and original aspect of the movie. We wander why is he shooting at these people? What is his motive? This man is doing is a crazy, psychotic act with no rational purpose to it, and that is what makes him a more terrifying threat.
The suspense in this film is at times almost unbearable. Although we know very little about the sniper's motives director Peerce takes great pains to establish the other characters who are in the movie for a disturbing simple reason: one by one, they will be shot.
The stampeding crowd scenes which ensue are exceptionally well-staged, enhanced by the Oscar nominated work by editors Hannemann and Newman. Beau Bridges has one memorable moment when he is racing to get to his family and is confronted by hoards of panicking people. Another highlight of the film is the contemplative music score by Charles Fox.
The film's view of the world is not a particularly optimistic one. The attacks are surprisingly violent, the police in this film come off as uncaring, arrogant and ineffectual. This cynicism becomes more apparent during the climax as we see people reacting downright animalistic to each other in order to survive.
As a fan of suspense and disaster films I definitely rate this film as a superior edge-of-your seat cliffhanger. The climax is frightening and terrifying when one realizes how the actions of one individual can cause a catastrophe to unfold. Two Minute Warning is suspenseful, well acted and at times frightfully mirrors our post September 11 feelings of angst and vulnerability.