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2 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
William Friedkin

Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Karen Allen, Powers Boothe

Cruising (1980)
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Movie Review by Ben
December 23rd, 2007

"Cruising" stars Al Pacino as Steve Burns, a New York City cop who goes undercover into the underground gay subculture of bars and hangouts to catch a killer. There is a serial killer who has murdered several gay men over the past couple of months, dismembering their bodies and throws their body parts into the ocean. As Pacino's character goes further undercover to offer himself as bait for the killer to come out of hiding, it changes him as a person, and he is not sure how much more of this he can take.

When this movie was first released more than 20 years ago, it created quite a controversy among the gay community who planned protests for the film's release as they felt they were not being portrayed fairly, and they felt that this would add to the homophobia that was already rampant in the country. Since there were no other films on gays or the gay community at large, it was understandable why they would have such a knee jerk reaction to the film. But after all these years, the real controversy of this film is its ambiguous ending which leaves many questions unanswered.

While Cruising is not at the same brilliant filmmaking level of some of Friedkin's best movies, it is an engrossing and very intense film that is part slasher movie, and part psychological thriller. It is not a wall to wall action movie like what you would typically see today at your local cinema. It is underplayed to a large extent, and it builds its tension through the dark atmosphere of the streets in the city. It is a movie that takes place mostly in the dark of the night, and Pacino keeps descending down further and further into the darkness, almost losing himself in the process.

He cannot even tell his girlfriend (Karen Allen) what he will be doing over the next few weeks. Al's character is completely cut off from everybody he knows, and he is all alone in a world where he cannot trust anyone, for any of them could be the killer he is looking for.

The most surprising thing about the movie is how raw and explicit the sexuality is presented here. The fact that the MPAA did not give this movie an X or even an NC-17 by today's standards is astonishing. They will never admit it, but the MPAA always seems to have a beef with alternate forms of sexuality. There are orgies and even fisting that would almost threaten to make this a porno movie were it not for the writing, direction and acting.

Al Pacino is excellent here, and this performance is free from the bombast that has long since undermined his roles for the past ten years or so. He underplays it here very effectively, and he is able to show the mindset of his character with very little or no dialogue in certain scenes. His eyes betray the loneliness of his character, and how lost and uncertain or certain he is.

Time however has allowed us to view Cruising from a different perspective. Today, we don't view as homophobic at all, since this movie only covers a very tiny part of that community at large. Today, we see a relic from the movie world of yesteryear that allowed movies to be dark and ambiguous. There are no easy answers in this movie, and the ending shows that there will be more killings to come. No one would probably dare to make a film like this today, nor would they end it with no real resolution. It seems that most people today would prefer to see the bad guy get caught and punished in movies just as in real life. But William Friedkin preferred his movie to reflect the messiness of life and how it goes on with no real resolution. Just like the ending of The Sopranos, this movie leaves us in a world of fear and paranoia.

It is an effective psychological thriller with some very scary and intense moments here and there. Any other director would have taken the easy way out and just made this into an ordinary slasher movie, which this movie veers into with its shockingly gruesome murders. "Cruising" is a movie that figures more in the real world than in the comforting fictional worlds we typically experience on the big screen. Friedkin does not have all the answers to this story, and he never intends to answer everything anyway. Life goes on with no real closure on any issues.

A retro movie to be sure, Cruising probably fits better in this day and age where movies continue to get darker and darker. It also serves as a document of a time and a place that has long since passed us by. A time where many lived freely among others, before the AIDS virus came in and changed us all forever. It will be interesting to see how others react to this movie today, with that endless disease always on our minds.

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