- Movie Rating -

Cruising (1980)

| February 15, 1980

I sat there trying to figure it all out.  I suspect that Cruising wants have a purpose.  It wants to say something, but damned if I can tell what it is.  This is a movie that gets every intention wrong.  Whatever it has to say about the new gay visibility is offensive.  Whatever it has to say about police work is murky and pointless.  Whatever it wants to be as a mystery is pointless since we never find out who the killer is.  The ending leaves us with an ambiguous void.

More to the point, who wants to see this movie anyway?  Who wants to see a movie in which a man has a knife plunged into his back with close-ups of the victim’s face being splashed with his own blood?  If the movie is supposed to be an expose on violence against gays, then why does the movie seem to masturbate over these images?

The movie stars Al Pacino in a much worse performance then he gave in And Justice for All or Bobby Deerfield as Steve Burns, a New York City detective who is assigned to go undercover in the city’s gay leather bar scene to find some information on who the killer might be.  Lain on top of that heady premise is a question that neither Pacino nor director William Friedkin seem willing to answer.  How exactly does Burns feel about the world that he has entered?  There is clearly something changing in his attitude toward these men who dress in leather and haunt the neon-lit underground bars but what is it doing to him personally?  Something in this scene is obviously affecting him, but what is it?

I’m afraid the movie never says.  Friedkin apparently wasn’t afraid to indulge in a lot of stereotypical prejudice about gay men and was not afraid to indulge in the leather bar scene, nor is it afraid to luxuriate scenes of sadistic violence with a knife being pressed against a victim’s throat, but when it comes to any real emotion, any real pain, any real characters, he backed away.  The Pacino character enters this world, makes observations and clearly has a change of heart.  But what is the change?  Is he afraid of the violence?  Is he becoming attracted to this underground world?  Are his latent homosexual tendencies coming to the surface?  Again, the movie never says.

If William Friedkin has a trademark, it is his ability to reengineer our thinking about tough subjects.  With The French Connection and The Exorcist he asks us to rethink how we approach certain levels of morality.  We’re asked how we would feel in those situations.  They challenge us.  Cruising was the perfect opportunity to help us understand why the new gay visibility was important, to show gay men as human beings and not as stereotypical sickos who were thought of, in the words of Paul Sorvino’s character as “Scared, weird little guys who don’t know why they do what they have to do.”  This is a vague picture, a messy picture, a violence picture and a real shame.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1980) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized