A police detective goes undercover in the underground S&M gay subculture of New York City to catch a serial killer who is preying on gay men.A police detective goes undercover in the underground S&M gay subculture of New York City to catch a serial killer who is preying on gay men.A police detective goes undercover in the underground S&M gay subculture of New York City to catch a serial killer who is preying on gay men.
William Friedkin's early-80s shocker, CRUISING, has been called one of the most despicable and offensive films ever to be put out by a major motion picture studio. It's been voted as one of the most homophobic films ever made, along with Paul Verhoeven's trash classic BASIC INSTINCT and Gaspar Noe's experimental revenge thriller IRREVERSIBLE. While I can certainly understand where the hatred for this film is coming from, I still find it to be a very effective and haunting piece of film-making.
I found the scenes involving Al Pacino at the clubs to be so full of realism and so raw that, at times, it was difficult to watch. These scenes are where the true horror of the film come to life. So much of what he sees disturbs him and, indeed, it disturbs us as well. The several glimpses of public sex(oral sex, anal sex, fisting, BDSM, etc) in these leather clubs are stomach churning in how different the world of these places are to everyday life.
The whole film is quite disturbing and fascinating to watch all the same, but the explicit nature of the scenes, as well as Al Pacino's reaction to them, give the film a real documentary-like sense of realism. The scenes in which the serial killer strikes are equally disturbing in their realism. They come off extraordinary in the blunt and heartless way they are shown. The fact that multiple frames of gay pornography are spliced into the gory violence further makes clear the idea of the knife penetrating the body and, at the same time, will probably raise a few eyebrows from many folks who are offended at such gestures.
Indeed, this is definitely a film that tends to be gleefully tasteless at times. I am certainly not surprised that many folks found the film so offensive. The gay lifestyle is not depicted in a particularly positive light. Most of the gay characters in the film are either perverted, violent, rude, or insane. The sole gay character who seems to be a shining light of purity is Pacino's neighbor in the film, Ted Bailey (Don Scardino) a rather young and sweet-natured writer who is terrified of the leather bars. Ted is the one lamb in the crowd of vicious billy goats, so to speak.
Despite the Ted character and despite the raw visual style of the film, the scenes of actual police procedure come of a tad weak when juxtapose with the scenes in the leather bars. While they do have just as much an uncanny realism to them as the undercover scenes, they feel a bit lifeless and ugly. In addition, Karen Allen in the role of Pacino's wife comes off slightly overshadowed alongside the other bizarre and interesting characters in the film. Despite this, however, she does help make the climax of the film far more terrifying and shocking.
Despite the homophobia and despite the flaws, CRUISING is a fascinating film. It remains one of the darkest and most challenging mainstream films I've ever seen. I loved the realism of the film and I loved how shocking the last hour was in particular. It is definitely a film that works! While I can't say that I would be able to fully stomach a second viewing, I can safely say that it is a film that will affect you whether you love it or hate it. You will not forget this film very easily.
- Jun 28, 2009