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September 22, 2007

Cruising - Classic Film Pick

CruisingSo much controversy swirled around William Friedkin’s gay-themed cop thriller when it came out in 1980 that audiences avoided it like the plague. But a lot of upcoming filmmakers saw "Cruising," and took notes. "Cruising" became the prototype for every serial killer movie to follow (see "Se7en," "Basic Instinct" etc.).

Friedkin’s trademark interest in the minutiae of brutality gets a perfect setting in Manhattan’s pre-AIDS-era leather bars, where a serial killer is stalking his victims. Al Pacino is transfixing as Steve Burns, an undercover cop sent to investigate the mysterious case from the inside, so to speak.

Friedkin pulls no punches in representing semi-public displays of outre homosexuality in dark cavernous sex club environments. This shocking and suspenseful semi-public setting provides the film with a danger-themed image system that seeps into the behavior of Pacino’s stoic character. His performance is exquisite. This is class A stuff. 

There was always some question about whether the film's ambiguous ending was the one Friedkin wanted. The studio exerted editing powers over the film. Not only were the graphic scenes Freidkin shot replaced in the film's updated version, but also, the misunderstood ending has been left exactly as it was.

The question isn’t whether or not Steve Burns is a killer, but rather how his on-the-job sexual experiences alter him personally. Like all great controversial films, this one leaves its psychological hook for audiences to hash out over kitchen conversations long after walking out of a darkened cinema, in Cannes perhaps.

Pacino cruising
Not Rated. 107 mins. (B+) (Four stars — out of five / no halves)


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