Thursday, January 5, 2017
SEA OF LOVE
(September 1989, U.S.)
The decade of the 1980s were not kind to Al Pacino. William Friedkin's CRUISING (1980) was largely panned by critics and blasted by the gay community. AUTHOR! AUTHOR! (1982) was considered by many to be a lame and unfunny attempt at ABC-TV's EIGHT IS ENOUGH and Hugh Hudson's REVOLUTION (1985) completely bombed at the box office (I've still never seen it). Brian DePalma's SCARFACE? Well, sure we all love it now and it's become a great gangster classic with a true cult following, but don't forget that when it was released in 1983, it was largely criticized for its excessive violence, profanity and drug use. For the latter part of the decade, Pacino took a four year hiatus and fans like myself couldn't help but wonder when and if we were ever going to see him on screen again.
Then came SEA OF LOVE, which in many ways, plays out a whole lot like Paul Verhoven's BASIC INSTINCT (1992) in it's tale of the hard-edge city cop who uncontrollably falls for a woman who is suspect in murder, and a woman who may very well be out to kill him. But remember, SEA OF LOVE was released three years before BASIC INSTINCT. Initially, there's no one I enjoy playing a cop more than Al Pacino; from SERPICO to RIGHTEOUS KILL, the man in his character knows the streets and how to work and survive them. Though hardly like the no nonsense character of Vincent Hanna in Michael Mann's HEAT (1995), Frank Keller in SEA OF LOVE is a very flawed cop. Having just completed his twenty years with the NYPD, Frank is going through a midlife crisis filled with alcoholism, feelings of regret toward his ex-wife and physical rage toward the man she married, who also happens to be a cop in Frank's department. Still, Frank is dedicated to his job and it's his idea to entrap women answering ads in the personals when two men are found shot dead by what appears to be an angry and jealous woman. He'll have help, too, from a Queens cop played by John Goodman who's really not much of a cop at all, but rather just a very fat sidekick and comic relief (just watch him dance and remove his jacket while singing "Sea of Love" and you'll see what I mean).
But let me back up for a moment. One of the first things this film does is attempt to create the initial setup of New York City being a dangerous environment in which anybody can encounter trouble. I'm not necessarily talking about the kind of urban hell depicted in a film like DEATH WISH (1974) in which gangs, muggers and murderous creeps are behind every corner. The film creates the environment of risk and danger in that you simply never know who you're going to meet on any given night and what that person may be all about. Dating is bad enough these days, I'm sure, with endless websites that offer the convenience of a person's picture and profile even before meeting them. Can you just imagine how crazy it was at a time before the internet when all you had to go on was a person's words in newspaper personal ads? The scene where Frank is dating, screening and deceptively getting the fingerprints of multiple women on their wine glass just reminds me of how disgusting a process dating truly was for me back in the 1990s. But even more than that, it also takes me back to the time of 1989 when I was not only living in Brooklyn and experiencing the harsh realities of urban life, but also experiencing true loneliness in a city filled with millions of people while trying to get over a girl I had (unwittingly) fallen in love with. Yes, sometimes a movie can really hit home for you on an emotional level, whether you expect it to or not.
So now enter Ellen Barkin as Helen Cruger (no relation to Freddy!), our Femme Fatale and key suspect in the film whom Frank has found himself in a highly intense sexual relationship with. Interestingly, at the time, Barkin may have seemed like the perfect piece of ass for a psychological, sexual thriller like this, even with visual moments like this...
However, as the years went on, other screen figures in similar roles like Sharon Stone and Demi Moore would make Barkin look stale by comparison, in my opinion. I even question whether that isn't a body double rubbing up naked against Pacino's backside? As for Pacino himself in a role as this beyond the cop, I've always considered the man too tough and too hard to play love and affection in any believable way. I can't fully explain it, but somehow I just don't picture Al Pacino as the right man to be kissing a woman or even getting naked with one. He's usually too busy battling and destroying his enemies. Think about it - in three GODFATHER films, did we ever once see Michael Corleone really get down and physical with a woman beyond just a simple kiss? We did not.
Yet, even as I mildly criticize Pacino in his role here, it's truly he who carries the film with his traditional brand of wit, sarcasm and cynicism toward his daily grind and life in general. Even as he gets deeper and deeper involved with Helen and we continue to be unsure of whether or not she's the psychopath shooter, we're still made to understand that in the end, love or not, great sex or not, he'll take her down because that's simply his job. In the end, however, it's the cliché of the jealous, raging ex-husband who's at fault (and who ultimately dies) and love shall truly triumph in the end scene that is an almost direct copy of the end of TOOTSIE (1982), New York City sidewalk, and all. Perhaps what we're meant to take away from SEA OF LOVE is that in a city filled with millions of flawed creatures, some of whom may potentially hurt us, there lies hope for two flawed individuals who would like to try and get beyond their flaws and give love a chance...even if it begins again with a simple cup of coffee in 1980s New York City.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Helen Cruger: "But I found something out. There are very few mistakes in life that can't be corrected...if you got the guts."
(I'm still trying to correct some of mine!)