THE CRUISING, William Friedkin 1980
Probably The Cruising is one of the least successful movies on which Al Pacino appears, not supported by critics, certainly due to the way darkest gay environments are depicted, although I find it really cool.
Since I watched it for the first time it took many years to find it available on DVD, and fortunately a making off and other several interesting documentaries were included, which help to understand the movie better, the symbolisms, the S/M scene in the Village in NYC 70’s…
The Cruising is a thriller about a serial killer whose target s are S/M gays picked up in the Meatpacking district clubs of the NY West Village.
New York is being striken by both a heat wave and a series of murders which have a common feature: victims belong to the gay community, and especially to the S/M leather world. Most of them seduced at the same clubs, such as The Eagle’s Nest, The Ramrod and The Cock Pit and then violently stabbed to death.
Recalling all info from the victims’ bodies , Police captain Edelson (Paul Sorvino) reaches the conclusion that an undercover agent infiltrated in this environment is required, and consider Officer Steve Burns (Al Pacino) is physically best suitable for the mission: dark haired, middle size, well-built, he can be good bait for catching the serial killer.
Thus, Burns move to the Village and start adapting to gay life, getting acquainted with his neighbor, Ted Bailey, a young writer who is trying to finish a Broadway script while his dancer boyfriend Gregory (James Remar) is touring.
In the beginning he’s able to combine his 24/7 mission with his personal life, taking often breaks to visit his girlfriend Nancy (Nancy Allen) but after few time their relationship is affected by Burns’ confidential mission, so does his personality, suggesting he’s being drawn by the world he’s living in.
The hunting of the killer put him in situations he’d never imagined.
The Cruising is basically a portrait of the most hardcore side of the gay world in NY in that time, and also a psychological thriller in which Pacino changes his moral standards in order to catch the killer, a traumatized college student with mental disorders who obeys his dead father’s commands.
It’s also very critic towards the Police Department, showing corrupt and vicious officers and also the disinterest in resolving some cases. Special mention to mythic freak actor Joe Spinell (anybody remembers Maniac? Cool!) and Mike Starr (Frenchy in Goodfellas) as a sample of vicious cops forcing transvestites to blow them up.
S/M bars scenes are the most shocking, rock music mixed with sweat, leather, color bandanas for sex code, popper, piercings, fist fucking, chains…super promiscuous behavior to AIDS discovery got me totally amused. It’s too much!
There are several issues not well developed and weird stuff difficult to understand. For instance, at least two different actors play the serial killer (in fact, the first one is later killed by the other) , the only reason I can find for that, is the possibility of multiple serial killers as to mean there will always be an active one. Also the way the killer is discovered is not very clear, and somehow by chance, however, the stalking carried out by Burns is pretty cool, also their last encounter.
Although is a dramatic movie, there’s place for some fun moments, when Pacino tries to buy a bandana or when dancing high in popper at the disco. They don’t contribute to the development of the plot but help to forget tension for a while.
Last scenes are very visual with not much dialogue, leaving the feeling that Pacino will never recover, suggesting there will always be a killer, and even sowing the doubt of Pacino being the one.
Very criticized by gay community and poorly received by the audience The Cruising was almost a commercial failure, and is almost unknown for Al Pacino’s fans. I wonder what’s his opinion on the movie, it’s possible he regrets it, playing a character moving between the straight path and a dark bizarre can be dangerous.