20 April 2014

Cruising (1980)
106 min.
Directed by William Friedkin.
With Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Karen Allen, Richard Cox, Joe Spinell, Don Scardino, James Remar.
In 1980, the director of the The Exorcist gave us this well made - but unsatisfying - murder thriller.

The setting is New York City's underground gay S&M subculture. A serial killer frequents leather & fetish bars, picks up gay men, has sex with them...and then brutally stabs them to death.

Steve Burns (Pacino) is a street cop who agrees to go undercover in downtown's Greenwich Village in order to investigate the horrific slayings. But Steve finds the assignment more intense than he originally surmised.

Will he be able to identify the murderer and keep his own psyche intact? Friedkin's solid direction - combined with his no nonsense approach to the subject matter - create a creepy landscape, one which he then dots with a series of disturbing murder sequences.

There's a fine principal cast (Pacino is good, but Allen is underused), and the gritty bar scenes are effectively sleazy.

Super controversial upon its release, Cruising was vehemently protested by gay rights groups who judged the film homophobic & exploitative.

Is it? Probably yes, since it too conveniently chooses as its backdrop the hardcore leather scene, a decidedly marginal slice of the much broader gay community.

But the more objective failing of Cruising is its open-ended plot narrative. The storyline is muddled and purposefully vague, leaving the audience with more questions than answers.

Indeed, Friedkin hedges his bets far too often here, and in the process blurs the edges of Cruising into nothing more than a fuzzy mass of visual shock waves.

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