Friday, October 10, 2014

Cruising (1980 film)

Based on the novel by Gerald Walker, Cruising is the story of an undercover New York City cop who is tracking down a serial killer through the S&M gay nightclubs as gay men are the targets of the deaths. Written for the screen and directed by William Friedkin, the film is an exploration into the world of the gay subculture of leather bars during the late 1970s/early 1980s before the AIDS crisis would emerge. Starring Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Karen Allen, Richard Cox, and Don Scardino. Cruising is a chilling although uneven thriller from William Friedkin.

The film is set into the sub-culture of the gay leather bars and sadomasochistic clubs in New York City where a New York City cop goes undercover to find a serial killer who had been killing gay men. Along the way, the cop deals with the growing homophobia among his fellow policemen while struggling with his role as an undercover cop as his personal life starts to fall apart. It’s a film that plays into a man going into a world that he doesn’t really know much about as he gets extremely close to this world. Even as he begins to wonder who the killer is as William Friedkin’s screenplay takes its time for the film’s protagonist in Steve Burns (Al Pacino) to study this gay subculture he’s in as he has to pretend to be gay by the way they walk and how they act.

Yet, he would struggle with his job and being undercover as his sporadic visits with his girlfriend Nancy (Karen Allen) are limited as the only person he can talk to his superior Captain Edelson (Paul Sorvino). Upon trying to find evidence and such about the world and who the killer might be, things do get more complicated where the film’s third act does become a mess. Even as the narrative reveals not just who the killer is and his motivations but it’s one that is never developed as Friedkin seems to try and make the killer a complex character but it never really gets fleshed out. Friedkin does also explore the world of homophobia from the way a couple of patrol officers harass two men in drag in one scene as well as the beating of a suspect from cops that would disgust Burns.

Friedkin’s direction is very interesting in the way he maintains an air of suspense in the film while the killings that are presented are quite brutal and gory. The film does open with a scene on the Hudson River where crew members on a barge ship find a severed arm. Friedkin’s use of close-ups and medium shots are very prevalent while he also infuses some very strange moments such as Burns at a leather bar dancing and getting high as it plays into his own descent. Friedkin maintains that sense of paranoia as well as terror in the way Burns deals with these murders as some of the violence is quite gruesome. The scenes at the leather bars and S&M clubs are quite provocative to showcase a world that is quite dangerous as well as foreign to a mainstream audience. Yet, some of it does play to stereotypes with the exception of a few characters who are fleshed out. Overall, Friedkin creates a very engaging yet messy thriller about a man going undercover into the world of gay leather bars and S&M clubs.

Cinematographer James A. Contner does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography from the grimy look of the seedy New York City streets where many of the clubs happen as well as some of its low-key lighting in its interiors and other dazzling shots in those clubs. Editor Bud S. Smith, with additional editing by M. Scott Smith for its 2007 reissue, does amazing work in the editing to capture the air of suspense and terror in the killing scenes as well as some straightforward cuts for the dramatic moments. Production designer Bruce Weintraub, with set decorator Robert Drumheller and art director Edward Posini, does fantastic work with the look of the nightclubs that Burns would go to as well as the apartment that he would live in.

Costume designer Robert De Mora does nice work with the costumes that features a lot of stylish clothes and leather gear that many of the gay men would wear. Sound editor Charles L. Campbell, with additional remixing by Aaron Levy for its 2007 reissue, does superb work with the sound from the way the parties at the clubs sound to the moments in many of the locations in New York City. The film’s music by Jack Nitzsche is brilliant for its very eerie classical guitar score that plays into its suspense while the soundtrack features music by the Germs, Willy DeVille, John Hiatt, Mutiny, and other underground punk and dance-rock acts of the times.

The casting by Louis DiGiamo is terrific as it features some notable small roles from James Remar as a roommate of Burns’ gay neighbor, Ed O’Neill as a detective, Mike Starr and Joe Spinell as a couple of patrolmen who harass two men in drag, Powers Boothe as a hanky salesman, Allan Miller as a chief of detectives, and Gene Davis as one of those men in drag who is also an informant for Captain Edelson. Jay Acovone is superb as a young hustler who is a suspect in the case as Burns sees him as a victim while Richard Cox is excellent as another suspect in the case who is actually really troubled. Karen Allen is pretty good in a somewhat thankless role as Burns’ girlfriend as she is often concerned about him.

Don Scardino is wonderful as Burns’ neighbor Ted whom Burns befriends as he brings a nice complexity to a character that could’ve been a stereotype but manages to be so much more. Paul Sorvino is amazing as Captain Edelson who is the one contact that Burns has as he is concerned with Burns’ well-being as well as see gays as real people rather than the stereotypes his homophobic officers act towards him. Finally, there’s Al Pacino in a marvelous performance as Steve Burns as an undercover cop who takes his first undercover assignment as he struggles with his new surroundings as he tries to find the killer while dealing with the homophobia that surrounds the police department as it’s one of Pacino’s more underrated performances.

Cruising is a stellar yet flawed film from William Friedkin that features an excellent performance from Al Pacino. While it’s a film that is very controversial in the way it explores a part of a gay subculture that was taboo at its time. It is still interesting as it navigates into a dark world where gays are the victims where a man tries to find their killer. In the end, Cruising is a very good film from William Friedkin.

William Friedkin Films: (Good Times) - (The Birthday Party) - (The Night They Raided Minsky’s) - (The Boys in the Band) - The French Connection - The Exorcist- Sorcerer - (Brink’s Job) - ((Deal of the Century) - To Live and Die in L.A. - (Rampage (1987 film)) - (The Guardian (1990 film)) - (Blue Chips) - (Jailbreakers) - (Jade) - (12 Angry Men (1997 TV film)) - (Rules of Engagement) - (The Hunted (2003 film)) - Bug - Killer Joe

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